U.S. rallies, advances to semis with 3-2 win

Fawcett heads in winner in 66th minute, only lead for U.S.

July 02, 1999|By Lowell E. Sunderland | Lowell E. Sunderland,SUN STAFF

LANDOVER -- Pushed down at the outset and then again by methodical, determined Germany, the U.S. women pushed back hard in a storybook second half last night and advanced to the Women's World Cup semifinals with a 3-2 victory.

"We just played on pure guts and refused to be beaten," U.S. coach Tony DiCicco said of the tense, intriguing contest at Jack Kent Cooke Stadium played before 54,642, which included President Clinton and his wife, Hillary.

"The game could have gone either way," DiCicco said. "It just came down to the women on this team having to win."

In the semifinals, the U.S. will meet Brazil, which defeated Nigeria, 4-3, in sudden-death overtime after blowing a 3-0 halftime lead.

For super-sub Shannon MacMillan, the game continued a dramatic career turn. Seconds after entering as a 66th-minute substitute, the one-goal, two-assist heroine of Sunday's U.S. win over North Korea set up this game's winning goal with her first touch, a low, driven corner kick that defender Joy Fawcett buried with her head just inside the near post.

"I'd been watching all game, and Joy was open on that near post," said MacMillan. "I've played them off her many times before, and she just knocked it home. I think I took two touches to the ground to get to Joy [to celebrate], because I couldn't believe it. I'm living out a fantasy right now."

For the versatile Brandi Chastain, who played this time at left back, the game began with a personal nightmare -- an own goal in the fifth-minute that gave Germany a 1-0 lead without having taken a shot. But it ended dreamlike for Chastain, not only because of the win but for her first goal of the tournament, a hard, 7-yarder off another corner kick in the 49th minute that tied the score, 2-2.

Of the early own goal, a weak back-pass intended for goalkeeper Briana Scurry that rolled half-speed 14 yards and into the vacant net, DiCicco was forgiving, with Chastain standing nearby after the game.

"You know, it's a big game and it's just the tension of the game," he said. "I felt so badly for them." It was the third time in this tournament the Americans had given up a very early goal or near miss, but then rallied together for wins.

Just as disappointing for the Americans, who sometimes seemed out of sync on a humid evening in a stadium that Fawcett said "played a lot faster than we were expecting," was giving up a stoppage-time goal to end the first half.

Having put together only a few tentative thrusts in 20 minutes, the Germans took a 2-1 lead when midfielder Sandra Smisek touched a nice pass to play-maker Bettina Weigmann at the top-right of the penalty box, and Weigmann dribbled left and out a couple yards before cranking a 22-yard, rifled shot high into the left side past the diving Scurry.

"It gave Tony a reason to kick us and say, `Look, you have 45 minutes left of your dream. If you don't spend the next 45 minutes wisely, you're going to end up going home,' " Chastain said.

His messaged registered because the Americans returned to the field a minute before the Germans and the game officials -- which is unusual -- and stood glaring at their opponents as they walked to their positions.

Second-half play opened fast but with no threats until the 50th minute, off a corner kick from the left, that produced Chastain's tying goal, when a corner kick -- one of 10 the U.S. took -- from the left short-hopped off defender Steffi Jones deep at the far post right to the American.

After German's opening goal, the Americans straightened out their game, inspired by a couple hustling plays by forward Mia Hamm.

In the 16th minute, the U.S. pulled even, 1-1, on a 14-yard shot to the lower left side by midfielder Tiffeny Milbrett. Defensive midfielder Michelle Akers, pressing the attack, shot hard and low from about 25 yards in front, the ball ricocheting off defender Maren Meinert to Milbrett.

German coach Tina Theune-Meyer said afterward, "We really believed we could win. We had the lead at halftime, and I thought we were well prepared."

Center-defender Doris Fitschen, the German captain, said the Americans "were very good in the air -- we had wanted to avoid that," adding later that "we made a good performance" against the favored Americans after getting through the tournament's toughest group into the quarterfinals.

Despite the loss, the Germans advanced into next year's Olympics in Australia, as did the Americans. The Cup quarterfinals also decided seven of eight Olympic competitors, the team losing worst in the quarterfinals being eliminated to make way for host Australia.

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