It may not have been comfortable, and it may have required a questionable penalty decision but the United States have advanced to the semi-finals of CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying. The USA beat Mexico 1-0 at Toyota Stadium on Saturday afternoon to seal top spot in Group A.
It was a tight match throughout, with Mexico determined to get a point, or even an unlikely win which would see themselves through to the semi-finals. As it is, the one goal loss puts them in the box seat to advance, although a difficult match-up to Costa Rica awaits on Monday, with the winner through to the semi-finals.
Showing how unusual the tight match was, it was the first time the USA ever won a CONCACAF Olympic Qualifier by a score of just 1-0. The star of the night was undoubtedly Mexican goalkeeper Cecilia Santiago who made huge saves all afternoon, including saving a penalty.
The first big chance for the United States came in the 16th minute when a cross allowed Julie Johnson a golden opportunity. Johnson got a header away but it was a stunning save from Santiago to keep the World Champions out.
With Mexico playing in a 5-4-1 life was always going to be difficult for the United States going forward, as the Mexican defense stifled the Americans. That led to few chances, with the USA players struggling to get that final opportunity.
There was one more big chance in the first half as Crystal Dunn was able to get a powerful shot away from the right side of the box. Dunn’s shot went across the face of goal and across Santiago, who dived across well to make a stunning save.
Just seven minutes in to the second half, the United States had a golden opportunity to open the scoring. Christen Press had the chance as she got away an impressive shot that finally beat Santiago but could only find the post.
Again Mexico tightened up defensively and it took until after the hour mark for the World Champions to have their next chance. Two chances came back to back from Alex Morgan, who first sent a shot over the bar and then a header with the same result.
The post was also proving a worthy adversary of the Americans as Lindsay Horan was also denied, in the 76th minute. Horan found the space and got the shot away, beating Santiago, but could only find the woodwork, letting Mexico off.
Four minutes after that chance, the United States finally hit their lead thanks to a fortunate refereeing decision. Karla Nieto was called for what may have been a harsh handball call. That allowed Carli Lloyd to step up but her penalty was well saved by Santiago, only to fall back to Lloyd, who buried it for the opener.
Three minutes from time Mexico could well have got back on level terms, with an impressive strike from Monica Ocampo. Ocampo unleashed a powerful shot, which looked bound for the top right hand corner only for Hope Solo to tap the ball on to the post and out, to give USA the 1-0 win.