SHENYANG, China -- The chances of the U.S. women's soccer team winning its group (and avoiding a quarterfinal clash with Brazil) were so unlikely that on Tuesday, forward
Shanghai is the destination of the Group G winner, but what was the likelihood that the U.S. could pull it off by: a) beating New Zealand on Tuesday; b) having undefeated Norway somehow lose to Japan and c) making up a killer goal-difference margin that had stuck the U.S. at minus-1 and Norway at plus-3?
Consider it done. In one of the wilder group-stage finales that you'll ever see, the U.S. smoked the Kiwis 4-0 here at the exact same time Japan was erasing a 1-0 deficit to obliterate Norway 5-1 in Shanghai. (Rodriguez helped throw her parents' own travel plans into disarray by scoring the U.S.' second goal.)
The result was monumental for the U.S. women, who by winning the group, can now reach the gold-medal game without having to meet the world's other two top teams: Brazil (in the quarterfinals) and Germany (in a likely semifinal).
Instead, the Americans will face familiar foe Canada on Friday in Shanghai with a possible semifinal showdown against host China on Monday in Beijing. (You think that one would draw a few vocal fans?) Those won't be easy games for the U.S., but they'd be a lot more appealing than a Brazil-Germany double-whammy.
This was one of those nights when it would have been helpful to have real-time group standings on your TV screen (or, for that matter, in the spaceship-like Shenyang Olympic Stadium). Not even at halftime against New Zealand did the U.S. appear likely to win Group G. But in a crazy five-minute stretch early in the second half, Japan scored twice against Norway and midfielder
Oddly, Tarpley was unaware of her goal's significance at the time. "I had no idea until after the game," she said.
The U.S. coaches were keeping close tabs on the Japan-Norway score but decided not to tell the players on the field, the better to prevent the team from taking its foot off the gas. And sure enough,
Not that the American players were lacking curiosity about what was taking place in Shanghai. "I kept looking over to the bench to try to see what was going on," said defender
That could also serve as the team slogan for the survive-and-advance knockout rounds, which just got a lot more favorable for the U.S. team.
In the moments after the loss to Norway, Rampone (the team captain since January) and
"Anything can happen in the Olympics," Rampone told her teammates. On Tuesday, it did. (Rampone earned her 200th cap against New Zealand, by the way.)
"For me, it was a confidence thing with this USA team," New Zealand coach
The two other U.S. wins came in blowouts: a 4-0 U.S. win in January and a 6-0 U.S. win in May. "I've been part of this team a couple years and I feel like I've played them so much," said midfielder
• Center back
• If I'm Norway coach
• Left back
One thing Chalupny might not be happy about: The IOC's official Olympic roster list claims that she's 5-foot-4 and weighs
• Strange but true: On my train from Beijing to Shenyang, one of my seatmates was reading a Chinese translation of
• Infuriating but true: The Google search engine is blocked at the official IOC-and FIFA-approved media hotel here, calling into question the log-in page that reads "you can now use the network freely." Some of us don't take the word