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Well-placed for QF berth but then ...
by Paul Kennedy, by Ridge Mahoney, August 11th, 2008 7:01AM

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[RECAP] The days of the USA's total dominance in women's soccer are over. In its second game at the Olympics, the USA eked out a 1-0 victory over Japan -- a scenario that would have been heretofore unimaginable. But after the 2-0 loss to Norway in its opening game, the Americans will take it. With New Zealand on tap for Tuesday, the U.S. women are in good shape to advance to the quarterfinals, but the damage of the Norway loss has been done. They'll probably have to play Germany or Brazil in the quarterfinals.

THE U.S. ON ATTACK.
A much more cohesive and aggressive U.S. team than the one that surrendered two goals in the opening four minutes against Norway tested Japan often, and might have had another goal or two through forward Amy Rodriguez, who marred an otherwise excellent display by shooting poorly three times.

The two breaths of Heather, right back Mitts and right midfielder O'Reilly, were strong going forward and stingy defensively, and captain Christie Rampone kept the center solid behind central midfielders Shannon Boxx and Carli Lloyd.

The American women had misfired on numerous long shots and produced little else in losing to Norway, 2-0, in their Group G opener Wednesday, but Lloyd's rocket in the 27th minute highlighted numerous good opportunities created against the quick and industrious Japanese, who were outshot, 18-9, but never outplayed.

THE U.S. ON DEFENSE.
But out wide, Japan caused problems, and the U.S. had to weather a few scary moments in its own penalty area, especially in the first half when Yuki Nagasatso got in behind the back four. She escaped her markers once to cut a ball across the goalmouth that slipped past a pair of teammates. Mizuho Sakaguchi found enough space to drill a low shot just wide of the post.

Playmaker Homare Sawa clipped a good shot that U.S. keeper Hope Solo tipped over the bar in the 22nd minute; while Solo wasn't as busy as counterpart Mihu Fukumoto between the posts, she came off her line decisively several times to collect through balls in tricky circumstances.

The U.S. kept the Japanese attackers subdued for most of the second half but in the final minutes they broke loose on the right flank yet again. Shinobu Ohno got to the end line and curled a cross that Karina Maruyama headed well wide only because of a solid jolt from Rampone, who capped her 199th international appearance - and one of her best - with the kind of play a defender, and a captain, needs to make at a critical moment.

THE USA REPORT CARD.
Soccer America's Ridge Mahoney grades the U.S. players' performance ...

U.S. PLAYER RATINGS
GRADE PLAYER
6 Hope Solo
7 Heather Mitts
5 Kate Markgraf
7 Christie Rampone
6 Stephanie Cox
7 Heather O'Reilly
6 Shannon Boxx
7 Carli Lloyd
5 Lindsay Tarpley
4 Angela Hucles
5 Amy Rodriguez
SUBSTITUTES
5 Tobin Heath
NR Natasha Kai
NR Rachel Buehler
(1=low; 5=average; 10=high)

USA REACTION.
U.S. head coach Pia Sundhage:
"We put a priority of A-Rod getting by the Japanese defense and the same with Heather O'Reilly on the right side. They did a lot for our attacking, but at the same time we were compact in our defending even though Japan played very nice soccer in the attacking third, actually one of the best I've seen. However, we stayed compact and they didn't score a goal."

U.S. midfielder Carli Lloyd
"Last game being my first Olympics, I was nervous, and I think some of the younger kids were as well. This game I just relaxed and tried to have fun. I think that was the biggest difference. Right from the locker room, something was different from last game. We were confident that we could get it done."

U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo
"[The Norway loss] stung. It stung deep, that loss. I remember the clock was winding down and I honestly felt sick to my stomach. But Pia told us, if you guys are struggling, look at me and my body language and I will lead you through this. So, she sent the tone right away that we better keep our heads up because we still have two games to play. It's about getting six points and moving on."

Click here more from the USA.

PRESS REACTION.
Jen Cheng, ESPNsoccernet
"After watching the U.S. women narrowly beat Japan 1-0, I've revised my opinion of the team. Pia Sundhage's squad is in very real danger of quarterfinal elimination if it doesn't improve. Against Japan, the women again had trouble creating many clear-cut opportunities and continued to concede midfield possession. Had Japan had any decent finishers, the score line could have been less favorable."

SATURDAY'S SCOREBOARD.
Group E
Aug. 9 in Tianjin
Sweden 1 (Fischer 58) Argentina 0.
Aug. 9 in Tianjin
China 1 (Xu Yuan 36) Canada 1 (Sinclair 34)

Group F
Aug. 9 in Shenyang
Germany 1 (Stegemann 64) Nigeria 0.
Aug. 9 in Shenyang
Brazil 2 (Daniela 14, Marta 22) North Korea 1 (Ri 90).

Group G
Aug. 9 in Qinhuangdao
USA 1 (Lloyd 27) Japan 0.
Aug. 9 in Qinhuangdao
Norway 1 (Wiik 8) New Zealand 0.

TUESDAY'S SCHEDULE.
Group E
Aug. 12 in Qinhuangdao
China vs. Argentina
Aug. 12 in Beijing
Sweden vs. Canada

Group F
Aug. 12 in Tianjin
North Korea vs. Germany
Aug. 12 in Beijing
Nigeria vs. Brazil
(TV: MSNBC, live-multisport coverage, 5 am ET; Telemundo, delay, 7:30 am ET)

Group G
Aug. 12 in Shanghai
Norway vs. Japan
Aug. 12 in Shenyang
USA vs. New Zealand
(TV: MSNBC, live-multisport coverage, 7:30 am ET)






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