Wagner Leads U.S. To Olympic Qualification

March 3, 2004

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica - Former Santa Clara University star Aly Wagner helped the U.S. Women's National Team book its place at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece, with a dominating 4-0 victory over host Costa Rica in one semifinal of the CONCACAF Final Round Women's Olympic Qualifying Tournament. Mexico stunned Canada, 2-1, in the other semifinal to earn its first-ever trip to the Olympics Games for women's soccer.

The U.S. got first half goals from Wagner, Abby Wambach and Kristine Lilly, and a second half strike from Shannon Boxx, out-shooting the plucky Costa Ricans 20-1 on sunny but extremely windy day at Estadio Nacional.

This marked the first time the Americans had to qualify for an Olympics, having earned spots in the 1996 and 2000 tournaments through their finishes at the previous year's Women's World Cup. The match was never in doubt as the USA scored in the 5th minute and the back line of Heather Mitts, Joy Fawcett, Cat Reddick, Kate Markgraf, and later substitute Amy LePeilbet, never let the Ticas near the U.S. goal.

Mia Hamm created the first score, taking a pass from Mitts down the right wing and bursting past a defender. She crossed to the near post, where Lilly flicked the ball to the far post, and Wagner plowed the ball into the net on a diving header from two yards out as a defender took her legs out. It was Wagner's 14th career goal.

The second U.S. goal came in the 26th minute as Fawcett lifted a ball over the defense to the sprinting Abby Wambach. The 5-foot-11 forward drove into the right side of the penalty area, cut back into the middle to her preferred left foot and drilled her shot into the left corner from 16 yards out for her 18th career goal.

"We've worked extremely hard. This might be the most difficult January or February we've ever had. You can't just show up in Costa Rica and except to qualify for the Olympics. It's an honor to coach these players and be a part of this organization. The commitment to excellence is 365 days a year, so to bring this group to Costa Rica, to train as hard as they did, and to be able to achieve our goal of advancing to the Olympics is very exciting for everyone."
U.S. National Team Coach April Heinrichs.

Lilly added the third goal three minutes later after Boxx was chopped down at the top of the penalty area. Hamm ran over the ball and Lilly hit a rising free kick from 18-and-a-half yards out that flew into the upper left corner just under the crossbar for her 95th international goal.

The USA's fourth goal may have been the prettiest as MacMillan made a darting cut inside the penalty box to receive Hamm's a throw-in from the right sideline, but instead of collecting the ball, she spun it back towards Boxx with the outside of her right foot and the U.S. midfielder crushed a first time volley into the left corner from 14 yards out. It was Boxx's ninth career goal in just 16 matches.

The USA dominated possession for long stretches, forcing the Costa Ricans to chase, a tough task for their two forwards who could not get close to the U.S. backs as they pinged the ball around the field. Costa Rica, which played with a very deep sweeper, packed the back and made it difficult to find a way to the net, but through some great combination play, especially from Lilly and second half substitute MacMillan, the USA created several more chances before the final whistle blew.

Costa Rica's one shot, which went wide right, came in the waning moments from star Shirley Cruz, and although it brought cheers from the crowd, the match had long been decided.

The real drama on the day came in the first semifinal as Mexico earned an historic win, becoming the first Spanish-speaking country to earn a berth in the Olympic women's soccer tournament. Star forward Maribel Dominguez scored both goals for her side, in the 21st and 58th minutes, while Canada pulled a goal back through 17-year-old Aysha Jamini in the 84th, making the last six minutes excruciating for Mexico. Mexico got some excellent play in the air from goalkeeper Jennifer Molina, who also made several big saves at the end, and the back line led by Monica Gonzalez, Rubi Sandoval and Elizabeth Gomez managed to keep the physical Canadians at bay.

The USA will face Mexico for the CONCACAF regional championship on Friday, March 5, at 8 p.m. CT at Estadio Eladio Rosabal Cordero. Fans can follow all the action on ussoccer.com's MatchTracker. This will be the fifth regional championship game for the U.S. women, who have won the four previous CONCACAF tournaments in which they have participated, three Women's World Cup Qualifying competitions (including one Women's Gold Cup) and one CONCACAF Women's Gold Cup that was not a qualifying competition.

Match-up: USA vs. Costa Rica
Competition: CONCACAF Final Round Women's Olympic Qualifying - Semifinal
Venue: Estadio Nacional; San Jose, Costa Rica
Date: March 3, 2004; Kickoff - 2:30 p.m. CT
Attendance: 4,000
Weather: Sunny, windy - 80 degrees

Scoring Summary:
1 2 F
USA 3 1 4
CRC 0 0 0

USA - Aly Wagner (Kristine Lilly) 5th minute.
USA - Abby Wambach (Joy Fawcett) 26.
USA - Kristine Lilly (Unassisted) 29.
USA - Shannon Boxx (Shannon MacMillan) 51.

USA: 1-Briana Scurry; 2-Heather Mitts, 14-Joy Fawcett, 4-Cat Reddick, 15-Kate Markgraf (6-Amy LePeilbet, 34); 11-Julie Foudy - C, 7-Shannon Boxx (16-Lindsay Tarpley, 60), 13-Kristine Lilly, 10-Aly Wagner; 20-Abby Wambach (8-Shannon MacMillan, 46), 9-Mia Hamm.
Subs not used: 3-Christie Rampone, 5-Leslie Osborne, 12-Cindy Parlow, 17-Heather O'Reilly, 18-Siri Mullinix, 19-Angela Hucles.
Head Coach: April Heinrichs

CRC: 1-Alejandra Alvarez, 3-Gabriela Trujillo, 4-Karol Segura Arguedas, 5-Monica Salazar, 6-Xiomara Briceņo, 9-Ericka Castro (19-Marian Montes, 76), 10-Shirley Cruz, 12-Laura Sanchez (7-Emilia Solano, 46), 15-Yahaira Aguilar, 16-Cindy Rodriguez, 17-Jacqueline Alvarez (13-Karla Villalobos, 68).
Subs not used: 2-Daniela Serruth, 8-Ana Gabriel Campos, 11-Megen Chavez, 14-Wendy Barrantes, , 18-Maricela Montes, 20-Silva Arias.
Head Coach: Ricardo Rodriguez

Statistical Summary:
Shots on Goal: 9/0
Saves: 0/5
Corner Kicks:7/1
Offside: 5/0

Misconduct Summary:
USA - Mia Hamm (caution) 43rd minute.
USA - Amy LePeilbet (caution) 61.

Referee: Maria Cecibel (El Salvador)
Assistant Referee: Maria Tovar (Mexico)
Assistant Referee: Jackeline Saez (Panama)
4th Official: Jill Proctor (Canada)

Wednesday, March 3
Semifinal #1 Mexico 2, Canada 1
Semifinal #2 USA 4, Costa Rica 0

Friday, March 5
Third Place: Canada vs. Costa Rica Eladio Rosabal Cordero (6:00 p.m. CT)
Championship: USA vs. Mexico Eladio Rosabal Cordero (8:00 p.m. CT)

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