USA and Canada have booked their places at the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament in London, reigning supreme in the CONCACAF region over the course of a ten-day qualifying competition. While both sides had qualified with victories over Costa Rica and Mexico respectively in the semi-finals, it was USA who walked away boasting regional bragging rights with an emphatic 4-0 win over the Canucks in the final at BC Place in Vancouver on Sunday.
The eight-nation competition unfolded at fast pace, with five matches demanded of the top-two teams in USA and Canada. The group phase was a tale of differing fortunes as tournament hosts Canada dominated proceedings in Group A with a 6-0 win over Haiti before hitting Cuba for two and defeating Costa Rica with ease. It was clear the Canadians had put their premature exit from the FIFA Women’s World Cup™ in Germany far behind them.
In Group B, the Americans racked up an impressive 31 unanswered goals with a 14-0 opening victory over Dominican Republic before thrashing Guatemala by one-goal less and hushing talk of an upset with a 4-0 win over Mexico. USA had entered the competition ready to move on from a runners-up finish at Germany 2011 and did so with resounding effect. Meanwhile, Costa Rica claimed second spot in Group A, which booked them a semi-final against USA, while Mexico crossed over as runners-up in Group B to face Canada.
London on the line
It was a do-or-die scenario for the last four, with two tickets to London 2012 the prize on offer. On a double-header matchday, USA overcame Costa Rica 3-0 in a game that arguably proved to be their biggest hurdle in the competition. Tobin Heath opened the scoring for the Americans shortly after the quarter-hour mark, but Las Ticas showed incredible resilience for the remainder of the first half, almost grabbing an equaliser through Raquel Rodriguez. The crowd at BC Place made largely clear their support was going the way of Costa Rica, however, despite that, the nerves finally subsided for Pia Sundhage's side and goals from Carli Lloyd and Alex Morgan ensured their passage through to the Olympics for a fifth consecutive time.
In the evening’s late kick-off, hosts Canada put Mexico on the back foot early on when captain Christine Sinclair struck on 15 minutes, while Melissa Tancredi doubled their advantage just eight minutes later. The strike-partners had produced fine displays throughout the group phase and again, the two did not disappoint the 22,954 strong crowd in Vancouver. Mexican forward Veronica Perez gave Las Aztecas hope with a stunning strike in the 67th minute, but Sinclair coolly chipped 17-year-old goalkeeper Cecilia Santiago to complete a 3-1 victory. Not only had Sinclair confirmed the Canucks' place in London, but with a brace on the night she moved onto a total 129 international goals and surpassed Germany’s Birgit Prinz in the all-time women’s goalscoring list.
USA and Canada could finally breathe a sigh of relief as they both had tickets in hand to this summer’s Olympic Games, but all was not over for the regional heavyweights as a final clash would confirm the region’s best. With a home crowd support turning up in unprecedented numbers, Canada were poised to unlock an American defence that had yet to concede at the tournament. Canada coach John Herdman said it best prior to the match reaffirming the rivalry between the two sides: “You try telling the players it’s a glorified friendly when they are playing against the US. The sleeves are rolled up straight away. They don’t frighten us, but they’re a team we’d love to tip over on home soil.”
However, things were not all rosy for the hosts, as USA marched on in their dominance at the tournament with a comprehensive win over Canada in which Alex Morgan and Abby Wambach each netted a pair of goals. It took Morgan just four minutes to get on the scoresheet before Wambach went on to outdo Sinclair, hitting a double to raise her international goal tally up to 131 – a mark that exceeds Kristine Lilly’s total by one and is only second to Mia Hamm with 158.
USA had shown unmatched depth throughout the qualifying tournament, regularly rotating their starting line-up and set out to punish the Canadians. Christina Julien put US goalkeeper Solo under pressure on one occasion of note, but Morgan scored her second on 56 minutes and the Stars and Stripes finished the final unscathed.
“We qualified already, but that wasn’t the end of the tournament,” said USA’s Morgan. “It's never just a game. It's never just a friendly. We wanted to finish the tournament off strong - no goals against, and we are happy with the end result.”
USA will certainly relish the victory, but will have their sights set on new horizons with Olympic gold the next honour up for grabs.