Thursday, July 31, 2014         

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U.S. keeps Cup hopes alive

By Associated Press


CANCUN, Mexico » After a stunning loss to Mexico that put the United States in danger of missing the Women's World Cup for the first time, the Americans got off to a successful start in three-match quest to qualify for next year's tournament through a playoff.

Lauren Cheney scored in the 17th minute, Abby Wambach got goals in the 33rd and 50th, and the U.S. stayed alive with a 3-0 victory over Costa Rica last night.

Next up is a home-and-home, total-goals playoff against Italy.

"We were confident going into this game," Wambach said. "This was the first leg of the journey we are on. Obviously, it's not the journey we thought it would be, but that doesn't matter any more."

Lori Lindsey set up the first two goals for the top-ranked U.S., which had been 19-0 in qualifying before Friday's 2-1 defeat to Mexico in the semifinals of the North and Central American and Caribbean region. That defeat forced the two-time champions into a must-win third-place game against the No. 47 Ticas.

Now U.S. will play 11th-ranked Italy, the No. 5 team in European qualifying, for the final berth in the tournament.

"You have two games to show the kind of performance I know this team is capable of having," Wambach said. "You can have whatever excuse you want in the world, but soccer is one of those games were any team can get beaten, even the No. 1 team in the world. It was a humbling experience. It's an experience that hopefully is a wakeup call for everybody, and we're going to work our tails off to make sure it never happens again."

The Americans leave Sunday for the first match at Padova on Nov. 20, then return for the second leg at Bridgeview, Ill., on Nov. 27. The U.S. is 8-4-1 against Italy, including 2-0-2 since 2001.

"I look at it like today was a warm-up, Italy will be the first half and Chicago will be the second half," American coach Pia Sundhage said. "And then, hopefully, we will be all set for the World Cup."

The U.S., the 1991 and 1999 world champion and defending Olympic gold medalist, improved to 7-0 against Costa Rica with a 34-0 goal difference. The Americans outshot the Ticas 14-8.

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