Carli Lloyd of the United States celebrates her hat trick goal against Mexico on January 24, 2012. (Rich Lam/Getty Images)
Carli Lloyd was the hat trick hero in a 4-0 United States win over Mexico that sealed first place in Group B, while in the early game Guatemala humbled the Dominican Republic.
In the final day of Olympic qualifying round robin action, the favourites finished off their perfect record with two more wins. Guatemala humbled the shocking Dominican Republic in the early game but the focus was on the United States and the arch-rival Mexicans, fighting for the top of Group B. The game gave the Americans their sternest challenge yet but was still one-sided as the United States won 4-0 thanks to a Carli Lloyd hat trick.
While Mexico gave the United States more of a test than they've been used to in the first two rounds, the game was still, predominantly, one-way traffic. There was no repeat of the United States' shocking 2010 Gold Cup loss: the game was in their control from the start even though Mexico played hard through the final whistle.
It took until the seventh minute for the Americans to get their early goal this time. An American corner made it through Mexican traffic to defender Rachel Buehler, whose powerful shot smashed off the junction between goalpost and crossbar. The ensuing rebound fell right to an opportunistic Carli Lloyd who had little to do but head the ball past an entirely out-of-position Cecilia Santiago.
Ninety seconds later, the Americans struck again through Heather O'Reilly on another scrambling goal, as Amy Rodriguez caught the ball in a seam between Mexican defenders Alina Garciamendez and Bianca Sierra. Rodriguez's lobbed shot was awkwardly tipped by Santiago straight into O'Reilly's path, who made no mistake.
The crowd, predominantly pro-Mexican, tried to rally their side to get back into it and the Mexicans did at least see the ball. Renowned striker Maribel Dominguez was largely isolated at the top for lack of service, but winger Dinora Garza was a sparkplug throughout the first half and responsible for most of the threats Mexico put on the American back four. But the pressure was only limited, as the Mexicans didn't have enough team skill to beat the American defense, and through ninety minutes they failed to direct a single shot on goal.
The game was 2-0 United States through 45 minutes and nobody realistically thought the Mexicans could get back into it. The naysayers were soon proved correct: in the fifty-seventh minute Lloyd got her second of the game when she nodded down a Lauren Cheney free kick that had only just eluded Abby Wambach. Lloyd then finished the hat trick on eighty-six minutes, putting away a Rachel Buehler set-up from another American corner kick. All three of Lloyd's goals game off of set pieces, reflecting not just excellent American execution but the considerable physical advantages enjoyed by the United States over smaller, younger, and weaker Mexican defenders. Throughout the game, the Mexicans had very short odds of winning any ball in the air: the Americans were just in plain better shape.
The result leaves Mexico facing a tough semi-final against the host Canadians for an Olympic berth, while American fans can start booking plane tickets to London as their semi-final, against Costa Rica, presents no upset threat whatsoever. Both games take place Friday evening.
In the evening's first match, Guatemala and the Dominican Republic faced off with nothing at stake; both teams were eliminated by losses on Sunday and neither had yet scored a goal in the tournament. In spite of conceding thirteen to the United States that day, the Guatemalans remained favourites: they'd been beaten much more narrowly by Mexico, they were higher ranked than the Dominican Republic, and of course in their own game the Dominicans had lost to the United States by a record 14-0.
The Dominicans were certainly the weakest team in the tournament but Guatemala's 6-0 margin was unexpected. In the second minute, Guatemalan captain Wendy Pineda got on the board; capitalizing on one of many Dominican turnovers, Pineda dropped a quick pass to Idania Perez moving down the left with space. Perez crossed back to Pineda loping into the box who right-footed it low past Dominican goalkeeper and captain Heidy Salazar. Three minutes later Pineda struck again with a goal made by superb passing between Pineda, Idania Perez, and Ana Lucia Martinez who had the final pass with a half-volleyed lob right into Pineda's path. Pineda scored from just inside the box.
Maria Monterroso scored in the ninth minute to make it 3-0 Guatemala early. Cinthya Lopez on the left wing hit a long pass towards Monterroso who had no trouble. Five minutes later, another good Monterroso chance was nimbly saved by a leaping Salazar to tip it over the bar. Then, on the 20th minute, Pineda scored her hat trick in gritty style, bull-rushing through Dominican defender Denny Vargas, stumbling, and recovering just in time to get a left-footed shot by Salazar.
Guatemala was passing well, working as a team, and looking far superior to the team that lost to Mexico and was run off the pitch by the United States. However, they were also under essentially no pressure from the Dominican Republic, who looked demoralized and inferior, marking time until they could go home. The Dominican negative tactics, seen throughout the tournament, prevented them from getting anything going while even their luckier chances, like a 67th-minute free kick that eluded every Guatemalan defender, went wanting because of a lack of precision and attention.
In the second half, Guatemala kept coming. Ana Lucia Martinez scored the goal of the game with a sublime piece of footwork; when an attempted Amarilis Lohaiza pass was blocked by Vargas Martinez ranged onto the bouncing ball, overcame her momentum to round a charging Salazar at the last moment, then as she approached the touchline just slid the ball into the open goal. Guatemala had a few chances late, most notably Martinez beating both Denny Vargas and Jocelin Rodriguez on the dribble before thumping a shot off the post in the 89th minute, then finally Monterroso got her second in stoppage time after it seemed Guatemala could do anything but score: a 4-on-1 break led to a block shot, the rebound fell to Martinez who hit the crossbar, the rebound of that landed squarely at Rocio Sosa's foot whose shot was stopped by Salazar, and finally Monterroso recovered the ball and powered a shot home.
There were few negatives for the dominant Guatemalans. After Monterroso was pulled down in the box in the fifty-seventh minute (making rather a hash of a good chance in the process), Pineda stepped up to the spot to look for her fourth but thumped it over (the Guatemalan captain received an ovation when she left in the 73rd minute anyway). The Guatemalans were occasionally vulnerable to long balls due to their fullbacks playing high, which accounted for most of what the Dominican Republic managed to do. But, warts and all, the Guatemalans emerged with a result to be proud of.