The U.S. Women's National Team took firm control of Group G and assured itself a spot in the 2012 Olympic quarterfinals with a 3-0 victory on Saturday against Colombia at Hampden Park.
U.S. midfielder Megan Rapinoe scored her first Olympic goal in the 33rd minute that proved to be the game-winner while Abby Wambach and Carli Lloyd added second-half goals to pace the USA.
With their second straight victory, the U.S. sits atop Group G with six points and will head into its final group match against Korea DPR on July 31 (5:15 p.m. local / 12:15 p.m. ET live on NBC Sports Network) at Old Trafford in Manchester needing a win or a tie to clinch first place in the group. In the other Group G match of the night, France hammered the North Koreans, 5-0.
Wambach and Lloyd both found the net for a second straight game, upping Lloyd's career Olympics goals to four and Wambach's to six, pushing her past legendary forwards Mia Hamm and Tiffeny Milbrett for most goals by a U.S. player in Olympic history.
"The things that went well were the three goals," said U.S. head coach Pia Sundhage. "Again, Abby (Wambach) and (Megan) Rapinoe showed the way. That's one thing I'm really happy about, the three goals and we didn't concede any...I'll give Colombia credit for the way they played, they made it hard for us and we couldn't find the rhythm in the first half. At the same time, we still have the ability to score goals and that's huge. You gain confidence by knowing that. At the end of the day, whoever is playing against us, we are prepared and fit and we will play on and on, so that's a message to the team even though the first half was a little bit off."
In a choppy match marked by physical play, the USA showed superior skill and athleticism from the get-go and created several promising moments in the first 15 minutes. U.S. midfielder Lauren Cheney poked the ball into the net in the ninth minute, but she was whistled for a foul after tugging down Colombia captain Natalia Gaitan before placing her shot into the goal. In fact, three times during the game the USA put the ball in the net, but had all three negated by correctly call infractions.
In the 12th minute, Rapinoe found Wambach to her left and Wambach's left-footed strike was saved well by Colombia goalkeeper Sandra Sepulveda, who leapt to push the ball over the goal.
The Americans struggled to find a good attacking rhythm and were less than precise on several services into the penalty area, but finally broke through in the 33rd minute when U.S. forward Alex Morgan was able to latch onto a free ball in Colombia's defensive third. Morgan dished to Rapinoe on the left. She took a couple of touches to get the ball to her right foot and then split Colombia defenders Arias and Kelis Peduzine with her bending shot, sending the ball over Sepulveda and underneath the crossbar into the dead-center of the goal for a 1-0 lead.
After scoring twice against France on July 25, Morgan did not find the net against the Colombians, but did pick up her first Olympic assist and was a menacing presence with her speed and strength all game long.
The physicality perhaps reached its zenith in the 39th minute when Wambach went down in a heap while making a long run to the Colombian penalty area. Replays showed that Peduzine struck Wambach's right eye with her right hand in an off-the-ball incident that was apparently not seen by the match officials.
Rapinoe nearly had a second goal in first-half stoppage time after Heather O'Reilly looped a cross from the right wing to the far post where Morgan touched it back across the goal. The pass had a little too much pace on it for Rapinoe, but she was able to redirect her shot on goal, only to see it cleared off the line just in time by Gaitan.
Rapinoe continued her strong effort in the second half putting shots on frame in the 58th and 60th minutes that were gobbled up by Sepulveda.
Despite a few anxious moments on Colombian set plays when it was still 1-0, the Americans caught a better attacking rhythm in the second half and were able to kill off the game with goals in the 74th and 77th minutes. The first came from Wambach, who accelerated onto a world class give-and-go pass from Tobin Heath into the right side of the penalty box, and with two players hanging on her, slid to knock home her 140th career goal from 14 yards out. She now sits 18 behind Hamm on the world's all-time scoring list.
The USA clinched the match in the 77th minute, moving the ball around superbly on a sequence from left to right with some quick-touch passing from Morgan, to Kelley O'Hara, to Cheney and then to Rapinoe in the center of the pitch. Rapinoe then provided a through ball to Lloyd a few yards above the box and she raced onto the service for tucking her low shot into the left corner of the goal past the onrushing Sepulveda.
The U.S. defense - led by captain Christie Rampone -- was able to almost totally contain the scrappy Colombians over the entire 90 minutes, and while the USA did give up several free kicks in dangerous spots, the South Americans couldn't take advantage. Colombia's attack was able to muster only one shot on goal during the match. That came in the 38th minute when Catalina Usme took a hopeful strike from way outside the box and U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo made the routine grab at the right post.