Second half substitute Alex Morgan scored in the fourth minute of second half stoppage time in Padova, Italy to lift the United States Women’s National Team to a 1-0 victory over Italy in the first of a two leg World Cup qualifying playoff series.
Marred by frustration throughout the evening, the U.S. was unable to break through a stingy Italy defense until the 21-year old Morgan, who entered the game for Amy Rodriguez in the 86th minute, found that elusive goal. Carli Lloyd thumped a long ball forward and it was subtly flicked on by Wambach right into the path of a on-running Morgan, who slotted the ball into the far post and beat Italian goalkeeper Anna Maria Picarelli from a tight angle.
The goal came in the fourth minute of what was only supposed to be two minutes of stoppage time. Italy Head Coach Pietro Ghedin tried to kill more clock by replacing Marta Carissimi with Pamela Conti just seconds before the goal. Responding to the obvious time wasting, the referee added more time and that is when Morgan struck for the goal that potentially just saved the U.S. from the embarrassment of being the No. 1 team in the world and missing the World Cup.
A 0-0 draw would have sent the two teams to Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Ill. next Saturday with Italy needing just one away goal to force the U.S. into needing two goals. Such a situation would have put the U.S. on the brink, but Morgan’s goal shocked the Italians and changed the entire aggregate series.
Frustration developed throughout the match for the United States as a lack of urgency and inability to finish helped the Italians gain confidence.
Italy defended well throughout the evening and the U.S. did little to break through. Megan Rapinoe found ways to get around Italy’s outside backs, but her services did little to worry Picarelli, who was strong on the evening.
The away side’s best chance of the first half came in the 17th minute when Rapinoe’s shot from the 18-yard box was blocked but fell right to Abby Wambach at the penalty spot. Picarelli rushed out and Wambach tried to chip her, but the shot went wide and Picarelli’s pressure proved critical.
Italy failed to muster up any great shots in the first half but at times enjoyed nice stretches of solid counter-attacking soccer. Captain Patrizia Panico proved effective as the lone striker up top and played well as a point player to hold up play on the counter attack.
Italy saw its best chance saved dramatically by U.S. goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart in the 64th minute. A loose ball dropped to Panico at the top of the box and she rifled a half-volley toward the lower corner, but Barnhart just got low enough to push it wide to her left.
The following 10 minutes were dictated by Italy as the crowd in Padova grew louder and more encouraging, but the U.S. did not cave into the pressure.
It looked as though Rodriguez finally found the breakthrough in the 80th minute. Picarelli made a poor decision to come off her line and was stranded at the top of the box after trying to punch a deep flighted ball away. The ball dropped to Rodriguez, who looked to chip the Italian defenders filling in Picarelli’s net. But Carolina Pini proved heroic and headed Rodriguez’s shot off the line to preserve the 0-0 score.
Chaos would ensue again in the 88th minute when Picarelli made back-to-back saves on shots from Morgan and Wambach before the ball fell to Lauren Cheney, whose shot went off the post. It just seemed like one of those days for the U.S.
Until Morgan changed everything.
Morgan’s goal sends the United States back to Chicago with a world of pressure taken off its shoulders ahead of the second leg Nov. 27. A 0-0 score, which Italy seemed to be playing for all night, would have made for an incredibly tense second leg.
By no means is the aggregate series over at just 1-0, but away goals serve as the tie-breaker and give a huge edge to the U.S.
- If the United States wins Nov. 27, it is through to the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
- If Italy wins the second leg 1-0 in regulation, the teams go to a 30 minute (two, 15 minute halves) overtime since the aggregate score would be 1-1 and both teams scored away.
- If Italy scores twice, one goal for the U.S. would not be enough. The aggregate series would be tied, but Italy would have two away goals and go through to the World Cup. Likewise, if Italy scores three and the U.S. two, Italy will go through, etc.
- A scored draw (not 0-0) will see the U.S. advance to the World Cup.