USA reign supreme as trio qualify for Canada

An action-packed 12 days of the CONCACAF Women’s Championship 2014 resulted in USA, Costa Rica and Mexico qualifying for the FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015™ and the Stars and Stripes winning their seventh regional title. Trinidad and Tobago impressed throughout the competition and finished fourth, setting up an intercontinental play-off with Ecuador to vie for one of the three remaining spots at Canada 2015.

Group A was dominated by tournament hosts USA, though Trinidad and Tobago proved to be the tricky side of the bunch as they caused the Americans trouble in the first group stage game, from which Jill Ellis’ side narrowly escaped as 1-0 winners. The US then ran away with the group after a 5-0 victory against Guatemala – though forward Alex Morgan suffered an ankle injury that would keep the Portland Thorns’ star on the sidelines for the remainder of the tournament – and a 6-0 triumph over Haiti. Trinidad and Tobago, meanwhile, earned a well-deserved second-placed finish with six points coming from ensuing 1-0 and 2-1 victories.

Costa Rica were clear Group B winners, earning nine points from their three games in comfortable fashion, though Mexico and Jamaica were constantly battling for second. The section was not settled until the final game of the group stage was played out when the two sides faced one another in Washington, DC. El Tri proved to be too strong for the Reggae Girlz, however, and Mexico’s 3-1 win set-up a semi-final showdown with their neighbours to the north.

Costa Rica and Trinidad, for their part, set the stage with the first semi-final, which required penalties to separate the two sides. After 120 minutes and one goal apiece, the Central Americans and Caribbean islanders could not find a winner, so penalties were required to settle outcome. Mirroring Los Ticos’ penalty success against Greece in the Round of 16 at Brazil 2014, goalkeeper Dinnia Diaz dazzled as she saved three consecutive T&T penalties, while her team-mates were perfect from 12 yards to win the shootout 3-0. The tense triumph booked Las Ticas’ first-ever ticket to a Women’s World Cup.

The US, in front of a passionate home crowd in Chester, Pennsylvania at PPL Park where Philadelphia Union normally play, enjoyed a much more straightforward semi-final. They saw off Mexico 3-0 in convincing fashion to qualify, with Carli Lloyd scoring twice in the first-half before Christen Press put the favourites out of sight. The Americans' superiority was reflected in the fact that they registered 20 efforts on goal to the Mexicans' one.

USA captain Christie Rampone also earned her 300th cap in the semi-final win, becoming only the second American to ever reach the milestone for his or her country. Rampone’s experience in the centre of defence brought a sense of calm to a relatively young American side, and Jill Ellis will likely rely on the 39-year-old – who was a part of the last USA side to win the Women’s World Cup in 1999 – to lead the Americans in Canada next summer.

Tenacious T&T fall short With a spot in Canada still up for grabs in the match for third place, Mexico and Trinidad and Tobago came flying out of the gate on Sunday looking to take an early lead. Sandra Mayor opened the scoring for El Tri in the 24th minute but Trinidad and Tobago looked as determined as ever to find an equaliser, and they had Mexico on the back foot on several occasions with lightning-quick counter-attacks springing out of midfield.

Randy Waldrum’s side were rewarded for their hard work in the 57th minute when Kennya Cordner scored a spectacular diving header at the far post to equalise. Mariah Shade put the islanders ahead in the 78th minute, but a lapse in concentration allowed Mexico to equalise less than a minute later through Monica Ocampo.

With the score level at 2-2 at the end of 90 minutes, Mexico capitalised on their gathering momentum and scored twice in extra time – Veronica Corral striking twice in two minutes – to win 4-2 to earn the third and final automatic berth to Canada 2015 from the CONCACAF region. There is still hope for Trinidad and Tobago, however, as they will face Ecuador in an intercontinental play-off for a spot at next summer’s showcase.

Once again, USA had an easy time as they clinched the CONCACAF Women’s Championship title with a comfortable 6-0 win against Costa Rica, sending a message to other top teams around the world in the process. Abby Wambach was her usual dominant self and scored four goals, while Carli Lloyd and Sydney Leroux also found the scoresheet as the Stars and Stripes celebrated in front of their fans.

With only three spots at Canada 2015 remaining, the qualifiers from CONCACAF – joined by the hosts who qualify automatically – will look on with great interest as the final draw, scheduled for 6 December, looms ever closer.