[UNDER-20 WOMEN'S WORLD CUP] The defending champion United States fell in the quarterfinals of the Under-20 Women's World Cup in Germany, losing to Nigeria in a shootout after their game ended 1-1. Sydney Leroux and captain Christine Nairn, the returning stars from the '08 championship team, both missed their penalty kicks.
The loss marked the first time in the USA has been eliminated as early as the quarterfinals in the five FIFA U-19 or U-20 championships.
North Carolina's Amber Brooks put the USA ahead in the 9th minute, but the Americans couldn't add to their lead despite a 15-4 edge in shots.
The game turned in Nigeria's favor after that. The Falconets, who finished with a 31-24 edge in shots, equalized with 11 minutes remaining when Helen Ukaonu scored on a blast.
In the shootout, Nigeria made all four of its shots, but Nairn's initial shot was saved by Falconet goalie Alaba Jonathan and Leroux missed in the fourth round to make the final score in the shootout 4-2.
Bianca Henninger twice saved the shots of Esther Sunday, who was shooting third for Nigeria, but both times English referee Alexandra Ihringova ruled that the U.S. keeper had come off the goal line prematurely. On her third attempt, Sunday stuck her penalty into the left corner.
"At the end of the day," said U.S. coach Jillian Ellis, "we should have put our chances away in the first half, and my heart goes out to the players."
Except for its second game, a 5-0 win over Switzerland, the USA struggled to put away its opponents.
The Americans tied Ghana, 1-1, and edged South Korea, 1-0. The Koreans, who had already qualified for the next round, rested several starters.
Leroux finished with six goals, one more than she scored two years when she was the tournament MVP and top scorer. The UCLA junior had previously represented Canada.
The U.S. U-17s were also eliminated in a shootout, falling to Canada in qualifying and failing to advance to the 2010 finals in Trinidad & Tobago despite a 38-0 edge in goal difference.
Nigeria will meet Colombia in one semifinal, while host Germany should play South Korea, which was leading Mexico, 3-0, in the second half of their game in Dresden.
July 25 in Augsburg
USA 1 Nigeria 1 (Nigeria wins 4-2 on penalties). Goals: Brooks 9; Ukaonu 79.
USA -- Henninger, Quon, Pressley, Dunn, Johnson, Short (Pathman, 66), Brooks, Nairn, Bywaters (Hayes, 70; Morris, 106), K.Mewis, Leroux
Nigeria -- Jonathan, Jegede, Ukaonu, Ohale, Nku, Kalu, Iroka, Orji (Ebere, 114), Oparanozie, Okoronkwo (E.Sunday, 68), Adule.
Referee: Alexandra Ihringova (England).