Rodriguez gives US 1-0 victory, spot at World Cup

The United States is on its way to the Women’s World Cup after

beating Italy 1-0 Saturday on a first-half goal by Amy

Rodriguez.

The Americans won the playoff series 2-0 on aggregate to earn

the last spot in the 16-nation World Cup, which will be played June

26 to July 17 in Germany. The draw is Monday in Frankfurt.

”Obviously this was a little different road than we had

expected,” forward Abby Wambach told the crowd after the final

whistle. ”But this team has resilience. We never gave up. We never

lost belief in ourselves.”

The top-ranked Americans were in danger of missing the

tournament they’ve won twice after a stunning upset loss to Mexico

in the semifinals of regional qualifying. It was just their second

loss since the 2007 World Cup, and first since the opening game of

the Beijing Olympics, which the Americans went on to win.

”I think the country always thinks, ‘Oh, the U.S. always goes,

they’re so good,”’ Julie Foudy, part of the pioneering squad that

won the 1991 and 1999 World Cups, said before the game. ”When we

stumble, they don’t realize the rest of the world is getting much

better.”

Forced to beat Costa Rica in the regional third-place game and

given a second chance with a playoff against the Azzurre, Europe’s

fifth-place team, the Americans – just barely – showed why they

have been at the top of the game for two decades now.

When the final whistle sounded, several players raised their

arms in triumph while the crowd of 9,508 roared.

Carrying a 1-0 aggregate lead after last weekend’s victory in

Padova, Italy, and needing only a draw to advance, the Americans

took a few minutes to settle in. Or maybe thaw out, with the

gametime temperature 33 F (1 C) and the wind making it feel more

like 25.

Their disorganization nearly got caught up with the Americans

when Patrizio Panico was left unmarked at the edge of the 6-yard

box. But Nicole Barnhart made the save easily and the U.S. finally

found its groove, dominating possession and peppering Italian

goalkeeper Anna Maria Picarelli – who grew up in Southern

California – with a half-dozen chances.

Rodriguez and Megan Rapinoe both missed empty-netters, and

Rapinoe skied another shot over the goal before the two combined

for a score in the 40th minute. Rapinoe worked her way around two

defenders before taking a left-footed angled shot. Picarelli

blocked the shot, but the ball bounced right to Rodriguez, who

poked it into the net from 6 yards out.

”I saw a scramble. I just went for it,” Rodriguez said. ”I

think it’s definitely made us stronger. I know that sounds

cliche.”

The score could have been more lopsided, with Lauren Cheney

hitting the crossbar in the 60th minute.

Italy coach Pietro Ghedin had given his team a ”10 percent

chance” of beating the United States before the playoff series

began – the U.S. has won 10 of their last 12 meetings – and the

Azzurre were further hampered by the loss of striker Melania

Gabbiadini. Gabbiadini, who has 22 goals in 71 appearances for

Italy, including six during European qualifying, missed both games

with a twisted ankle.