Uploaded: Tuesday, July 31, 2012, 3:32 PM
U.S. women's win sets up a Stanford reunion
|The next time the U.S. Olympic women's soccer team steps onto the pitch in the 2012 London Games, it will be a reunion for a handful of former Stanford players.
The Americans, coming off a 1-0 victory over Korea DPR on Tuesday, feature Cardinal grads Rachel Buehler, Nicole Barnhart, Kelley O'Hara and alternate Christen Press. Playing for New Zealand is Ali Riley, another ex-Cardinal.
Riley, O'Hara and Buehler were all teammates in 2007. Riley and O'Hara graduated in 2010.
The reunion will take place in a quarterfinal on Friday at St. James' Park in Newcastle. The match will be televised live by the NBC Sports Network at 6:30 a.m. (PDT).
Riley is happy to be in position to face her old teammates after suffering a pre-Olympic injury. The standout fullback suffered an ankle injury in a loss to Canada in Switzerland two weeks ago, sidelining her from the subsequent win over Colombia and the early part of their Olympic preparation.
Regarded by many as the Football Ferns' best player, Riley is an important cog with her ability to get up and down the left flank and create opportunities.
Despite Riley's talents, New Zealand went into the final round of group matches with a 0-2-0 record, having lost tight 1-0 contents to both England and Brazil. In their group finale, the Kiwis pulled out a 3-1 victory over winless Cameroon to take third place in the group -- earning a berth to the quarterfinals as one of the two best third-place finishers along with Canada from Group F.
The win by New Zealand also knocked Korea DPR out of the quarterfinal round on the basis of goal difference.
Team USA, meanwhile, remained perfect with its close win in Manchester, England. The Americans swept their group stage as Abby Wambach scored her third goal of the tournament in the 25th minute.
The goal for the USA's star striker gives her one in each of the USA's three group matches and gave the Americans the Group G title in front of 29,522 fans at Old Trafford, the legendary home of Manchester United.
Heading into the match, U.S. needed a win or a draw to finish first in the group, and Wambach's goal proved more than enough as the North Koreans sat back, playing five players across the defensive line for most of the match.
The win marked the first time the USA has taken the full nine points from a group stage at the Olympics, going 2-0-1 in 1996, 2000 and 2004 and 2-1-0 in 2008.
"Abby scored a great goal, which feels good for all of us," said U.S. Women's National Team head coach Pia Sundhage. "She's been playing well and just shows how important she is for the team. We got a chance to save some legs in the second half and we slowed down the game quite a bit and now we look forward to the quarterfinal with a healthy, happy team."
The USA held a heavy possession advantage over Korea DPR from the start and played a first half that deserved more than one goal. That one score came in the 25th minute as midfielder Lauren Cheney orchestrated the play with a superb pass looped over the Korea DPR back line to Alex Morgan.
The U.S. forward collected the ball well under pressure, fought off a pair of Korea DPR defenders and slipped a square pass to Wambach in the middle of the penalty area. Wambach, who stayed just onside, had the entire goal to work with and slotted her right-footed shot into the right side of the net for a 1-0 lead.
It was Wambach's seventh career goal in the Olympics -- most in U.S. history -- and the 141st of her career, second only in world history to Mia Hamm's 158.
The New Zealand Oly-Whites will have to seek a clearance from Queen's Park Rangers to secure captain Ryan Nelsen's services if they achieve the impossible and beat Brazil to reach the Olympic Games semifinal.
The 34-year-old Nelsen, a former Stanford standout, is due to leave with QPR for a 10-day training camp in Germany on Saturday. But, if the Oly-Whites beat Brazil on Wednesday and finish above Belarus and Egypt in pool play, they would play a quarterfinal game on Sunday.
New Zealand coach Neil Emblen told Fairfax NZ News that he would "cross that bridge when we come to it."
But he said he would "hope" QPR manager Mark Hughes would see that Nelsen was getting good quality games at the Olympics.
Nelsen and teammate Ian Hogg are the only survivors from the Oly-Whites team that lost 5-0 to Brazil at the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
— Palo Alto Online Sports/US Soccer
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