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  08.04.12 Tim Grainey, USA CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Finals
  08.04.10 Tim Grainey, USA CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Semifinals
 
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When it comes to a shootout,
a coach
has no confidence and you control almost nothing. You pick five players and cross your
fingers
– Even Pellerud
 
Canada and USA wrap up successful bid for
Olympic qualification
by Tim Grainey, Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Apr. 12, 2008
With both nations already assured spots in the Beijing Olympics this summer, Canada and the United States battled Saturday night in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, for the CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying title and seeding preference in the Olympic First Round Draw.
spacerCanada eventually lost a seven-round penalty kick contest after holding the US to a scoreless tie through regulation time, then exchanging strikes during overtime. US midfielder Carli Lloyd scored first with a long free kick following a hard (yellow card earning) foul by Kara Lang. After conceding its first goal in four matches, Canada charged back and tied it up from the corner flag, with four minutes left in the second overtime period, as Melissa Tancredi heading her fifth score of the tournament.

Canada played a strong first half featuring several good attempts on net including two each from Christine Sinclair and Lang. Defender Candace Chapman also steered  long free-kick just wide of goal. Through the first 45 minutes Canada and the US shared possession however, in the second half high-scoring forward Abby Wambach helped the US turn the tide, and the Canadians chased the ball for long periods. Fortunately for Canada, Erin McLeod had an inspired game in net, making 10 total saves including game-saving stops in regulation time from Amy Rodriguez and substitute Angela Hucles. In overtime, McLeod came up big against Wambach (twice), Rodriguez, Hucles and Lori Chalupny.
spacerCoach Even Pellerud thought Canada played a “very high quality first half,” and recognised Wambach’s affect on the game. “She is strong on the ball and made it easier for the US to get lots of cross balls into the score box.” Pellerud had "no complaints" about the goal conceded, and on Canada's fight back, “I liked the moral of my team. It was good to see. I thought it was an international game of very high standard, one of the best I’ve seen.”

During the penalty shootout, US goals by Lloyd, Hucles, Wambach and captain, Christie Rampone, were matched by Sinclair, Tancredi, Lang and Clare Rustad. McLeod saved Chalupny’s low shot, making up for Martina Franko’s miss off the post. Canada's Rhian Wilkinson then matched Leslie Osborne’s successful strike yet after US substitute Heather O’Reilly scored, Brittany Timko’s hard attempt found goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart, sending the Americans home with the trophy. Pellerud didn't appear disheartened. “When it comes to a shootout, a coach has no confidence and you control almost nothing. You pick five players and cross your fingers.”

Another narrow CONCACAF Championship Final loss, following late, one-goal losses in the last two Gold Cup finals, was a tough ending for the Canadians however, the team is leaving Juarez with a valuable consolation prize — its first ticket to the Olympic Games. McLeod emphasized how important that qualification spot is, “We’re so proud, [after Wednesday’s win over Mexico to clinch the spot] we were relaxed for the first time in five months and we’re happy to be going and we’ll do our best to prepare for it.” spacer


 
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The best team tonight qualified for China. I’m very proud of the team – proud of the way they followed our instructions
– Even Pellerud
 
Canada tames Mexico and buys its ticket to Beijing
by Tim Grainey, Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Apr. 10, 2008
Canada beat Mexico 1–0 Apr. 10 in Ciudad Juarez, and secured its first ever Olympic Games ticket. The Canadian women won their CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Tournament Semifinal thanks to Melissa Tancredi’s goal in the twenty-fifth minute. Tancredi pounced when Mexican defender Rubi Sandoval slipped and fell while clearing a ball 35 meters from net. With only goalkeeper Sophia Perezto beat, Tancredi streaked in and drove a low shot to the corner.
spacerMexico's few second-half opportunities were no match for Canada's outstanding collective effort, and it's dreams of a 2004 reprisal was effectively killed off by Canada's adroit passing. They were also matched at the same stage of CONCACAF’s 2004 Olympic Qualifying tournament in Costa Rica. Mexico provided the shocker with its first victory (2–1) over Canada, to grab an Olympic berth. Canada, fresh off a fourth place finish in the 2003 World Cup, was stunned.

On this occasion, Mexico was playing at home in Ciudad Juarez, across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas. Last Sunday’s final first round matches drew a sold out crowd of 22,280 to see the US defeat Mexico 3–1 and Canada defeat Costa Rica 1–0. The crucial Semifinal matches drew a near sellout crowd of 19,850 on an evening with 50 mph winds during the first match between the US and Costa Rica. Following the US' 3–0 demolition of the Ticos, the passionate, emotional and largely partisan crowd were eager for Mexico to teach Canada another lesson. Canada however, played a superb match in all aspects, including its seven shots on goal compared to Mexico's four. After the match, head coach Even Pellerud insisted, “The best team tonight qualified for China. I’m very proud of the team – proud of the way they followed our instructions. They kept [Mexico's] dangerous strikers away from the box.”
spacerThe players were also very happy with the result. Forward, Brittany Timko said, “It hasn’t completely sunk in yet. It’s such a good feeling for us. It’s the first time we are going to the Olympics. We were disappointed with how we finished in China in the World Cup [not advancing past the first round last September] and we get to go back.”
spacerForward, Kara Lang said that they tried not to focus on the 2004 result but “it was always in the back of our minds. That [loss] was a horrible feeling and we didn’t ever want to experience that again.”
spacerCanada is now 13–1–1 all-time versus Mexico and is 6–4–2 in 2008.

Pellerud announced that the team will take a two and one-half week break before a friendly with the US in Washington DC, May 10. Canada will compete in the eight-team Peace Queen Cup in June, in the Republic of Korea, with first round matches set against Argentina, the host nation and neighbouring Korea DPR. The team will return for residency training in Vancouver before the August Olympics, where Canada will join the US, Argentina, China, Germany, Japan, Korea DPR, Nigeria, Norway and Sweden in the twelve team event. Qualifying tournaments conclude around the world this month. spacer