NEWCASTLE, England (Reuters) - Goals in each half from Abby Wambach and Sydney Leroux fired the United States into the semi-finals of the Olympic women’s soccer tournament with a 2-0 win over New Zealand at St. James’ Park on Friday.
The U.S., three-times Olympic champions, will next face the winners of Friday’s match between hosts Britain and Canada on Monday at Manchester United’s Old Trafford stadium.
Pia Sundhage’s team will have to up their game for that encounter though after a display in which the Americans never looked in danger but were unable to put the game beyond a hard-working New Zealand until three minutes from the end of normal time when Leroux put the outcome beyond doubt.
“I was unaware I scored, I think,” Leroux said.
“I‘m pretty sure I blacked out. I was just going crazy and they all came round me, and Kelly (O‘Hara) starting yelling, ‘I‘m so proud of you’ and I think I almost started crying in the middle of the game.”
Wambach put the U.S. ahead in the 27th minute, sliding in at the back post to convert a superb diagonal pass from Alex Morgan for her fourth goal in as many games at the tournament.
Earlier Morgan, whose light touch and intelligent movement have made her one of the outstanding players in this tournament, had missed a good chance when she rounded New Zealand keeper Jenny Bindon but placed her shot wide of the far post.
Wambach, who now has 142 international goals, had also missed a good opportunity, as Morgan was unable to reach a low cross and the ball fell to her team-mate at the back post who shot wide from close range.
The one goal advantage at the break put the pressure on New Zealand to attack in the second half but the solid U.S. defense restricted them largely to long range efforts which failed to test American keeper Hope Solo.
Morgan was upset when she went down just outside the penalty area under challenge from Bindon but the referee saw no foul to the frustration of the Californian forward.
At the other end there was a real let-off for the U.S. in the 84th minute as New Zealand’s Rosie White burst into the box and went down under challenge as several U.S. defenders closed on her but the Argentine referee waved played on.
New Zealand skipper Rebecca Smith said: ”It was definitely a penalty. From where I was which was quite far away, it looked like Rosie had gone past two defenders inside the box and there’s only one way to bring someone down when they have passed someone. But that’s football.
“But good luck to the USA. They are a quality team and I think they’ll go on to win gold.”
Three minutes after that, the U.S. sealed victory when substitute Leroux, on for Morgan, showed her pace and strength, bursting into the area and firing home.
Reporting By Simon Evans, Editing by Patrick Johnston and Nigel Hunt