IRAKLION, Greece – The only teenager on the U.S. women's soccer team came to the rescue. Heather O'Reilly (search), who had Mia Hamm (search) posters on her wall just a few years ago, scored in the ninth minute of the extra period Monday to give the Americans a 2-1 victory over World Cup champion Germany and a place in Thursday's Olympic gold-medal game.
The win gives the Fab Five — long-standing stars Hamm, Julie Foudy (search), Joy Fawcett (search), Brandi Chastain (search) and Kristine Lilly (search) — a chance to go out as champions in their final tournament together.
"That whole year it's kind of been our focus," said O'Reilly, the 19-year-old upcoming sophomore at North Carolina. "What these women have done for the last 10 years has been remarkable, and this is it for some of them. As young players, we wouldn't be happy putting them out with anything but a gold."
That was exactly the message sent by coach April Heinrichs in her pre-game speech. Heinrichs had avoided the topic all year, but her gut told her it was "time to name the beast."
"It's all of our jobs, including the coaching staff, to find a way to win so that they can go out on top in a fashion that's only world-class," said Heinrichs, her voice cracking with emotion.
The U.S. team will face an interesting rematch with Brazil, a 1-0 winner over Sweden, for the Olympic title Thursday in Athens. Brazil's coach accused the Americans of deliberately trying to hurt his players in a 2-0 loss to the U.S. team last week in the first round.
Germany will play Sweden in the bronze medal game.
However, one of the Fab Five might not be able to play. Foudy sprained her right ankle in the second half and left the stadium on crutches. Heinrichs was pessimistic about Foudy's chances, but the longtime team captain wasn't giving up.
"I think I'll just have them chop it off and I'll drag my stump out there if I have to," Foudy said. But she added she wouldn't play if she felt she would hurt the team.
O'Reilly was screaming for Hamm's autograph when the U.S. women were playing at Giants Stadium in the 1999 World Cup. Five years on, she took Hamm's pass to score the winning goal.
Hamm, working on the right side, drew the German defense her way, then pushed back a short cross toward O'Reilly, who got her right foot on the ball and pushed a 6-yard shot to the left of goalkeeper Silke Rottenberg.
Hamm said her move to pull the defenders her way came from studying tapes of last year's 3-0 loss to Germany in the World Cup semifinals, a sour defeat that had lingered on the Americans' minds all year. Germany went on to win the Cup and entered the Olympics ranked No. 1 in the world, a place the U.S. had held for so long.
Asked the difference between this game and the one 11 months ago, German coach Tina Theune-Meyer said: "This time, they had seven, eight months to prepare for this very event."
The Americans were unlucky that the game even went to overtime. They controlled most of the match, and Germans' tying goal came on a shot from Isabell Bachor that deflected off Fawcett's hip two minutes into second-half injury time.
"It is deflating," forward Abby Wambach said. "But the wonderful thing about this team is we can come back from that, and that's what we believed."
Then, in overtime, O'Reilly had an open net in front of her after getting past Rottenberg at the top of the penalty box, but she rushed her shot and hit the near post.
"I was pretty upset about it, but I've got to forget about things like that and keep playing," O'Reilly said. "You take a breath, let it go, and that's it."
Lilly scored her 98th career goal in the 33rd minute — her third goal in as many games — and the U.S. defense didn't allow a shot on goal until the 77th minute. Birgit Prinz, the reigning world player of the year, was essentially neutralized.
Lilly's first-half goal capped a strong, 10-minute stretch for the Americans. Chastain dribbled a cross from the left wing, and Wambach used her strength to fight off a defender and flick the ball ahead to Lilly. Lilly's shot hit the hand of Rottenberg, who was leaning just slightly the wrong way, before settling inside the far corner of the net.
After the game, exhausted from 120 minutes of soccer, the Americans started to regroup. The final game for the Fab Five was just three days away.
"It's not over," Wambach said. "These women more than anybody know that."