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Wambach goal propels US into semifinals

FOXBOROUGH -- Route 1 soccer is a euphemism for employing direct, long-ball tactics. And since Route 1 is the road leading to Gillette Stadium, it was fitting that the United States used that style of play to defeat Norway, 1-0, in the quarterfinals of the Women's World Cup last night.

Abby Wambach, at 6 feet, 160 pounds the biggest player on the field, headed in the only goal off a free kick in the 24th minute as the US qualified to meet Germany or Russia in the semifinals Sunday in Portland, Ore.

"Strategically, it was a simple game and we kept it a simple game," US coach April Heinrichs said. "We wanted to match up physically. Our No. 1 priority was to match their physical game and their aerial game, and after that, settle it down.

"Norway gets better during the course of a tournament and this was their best game."

The US went directly to Wambach and 6-foot forward Cindy Parlow, and also relied on them to pressure the Norwegian defense in possession, and Shannon Boxx to disrupt Norway's midfield play. A Boxx tackle on Norway's Trine Ronning led to the insertion of Anita Rapp just seconds before the deciding goal, Wambach outmaneuvering Marit Fiane Christensen on Cat Reddick's free kick from the center circle.

This was the type of game that might have favored the Norwegians, who were content to absorb pressure and counterattack through Dagny Mellgren and Marianne Pettersen, then await a late spark from Hege Riise. But the US set the tone early, Wambach heading a cross off the bar in the fifth minute, and stayed in control. Norway failed to penetrate the US defense until late in the match.

Mellgren slipped through in the 77th minute, her shot saved by Briana Scurry, then Riise chipped for Solveig Gulbrandsen, only for Scurry to arrive first during injury time.

"It is always a close match between the US and Norway but they were better than us," Norway coach Age Steen said. "They were very good on set pieces, strong in the air, stronger than the Norway team."

This was the first time the US women's team had played at Gillette Stadium, as it improved to 5-0-1 with a 19-0 goal differential in Norfolk County. The US defeated North Korea, 3-0, during the 1999 Cup at Foxboro Stadium before 50,484, a New England record crowd for a women's sporting event.

Yesterday, a crowd of 25,103 arrived on a near-perfect night for soccer, calm, dry, with temperatures in the 60s. Fans were rewarded with a full-strength US performance, Julie Foudy, Mia Hamm, and Kristine Lilly going the distance after having rested during the US-North Korea match last Sunday in Columbus, Ohio, Hamm for the entire match and Foudy and Lilly for a half.

Hamm struggled to find space, and did not play quickly enough to avoid the hard tackling of the Norwegians. Hamm's penalty kick in the 68th minute was saved by Bente Nordby, after Swiss referee Nicole Petignat had awarded the penalty following a clash between Nordby and Wambach.

"I know I made solid contact," Hamm said of the penalty. "I didn't see it until I looked up and the ball was in her arms. I am glad that one goal was enough and we are on to the semifinals."

But the penalty miss, a minute after central defender Ane Stangeland had returned after being kicked in the mouth by Parlow, served neither to inspire Norway nor deflate the US.

"Any time there is a penalty kick the momentum can change," US defender Kate Sobrero said. "Nordby made a good save but after that we stepped up our level. We wanted to battle for Mia so she would never regret or feel bad about that."

The US has now advanced to the semifinals of all four Women's World Cup tournaments. Norway, the 1995 Cup champion, was also eliminated in the '99 quarterfinals, falling to China, 5-0, at Foxboro Stadium, then rallying to win the Olympic tournament by defeating the US in Sydney. Norway, though, did not qualify for the 2004 Olympics.

"This is a little redemption," Sobrero said. "I was heartbroken after the Olympics. But you want the best teams to be in the Olympics and Norway should be there. It's bad for soccer that they are not going to be there."

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