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U.S. tops Colombia to advance to WWC quarters

Jul 2, 2011 - 8:31 PM Sinsheim, Germany (Sports Network) - The United States is finally playing like the No. 1 team in the world should.

Heather O'Reilly, Megan Rapinoe and Carli Lloyd scored as the Americans topped Colombia, 3-0, on Saturday at Rhein-Necker-Arena to seal a quarterfinal berth in the Women's World Cup.

The U.S. leads Group C and will finish atop the standings with a draw or a win against Sweden on Wednesday. Both the U.S. and Sweden have won their first two games, but the Americans lead the standings on goal differential.

Although the U.S. lost to Mexico, Sweden and England in the nine months before the World Cup and almost failed to qualify - it has won its first two games at the tournament convincingly. The U.S. beat North Korea, 2-0, in its opener.

Sweden also secured a quarterfinal berth with the United States' win, and both Colombia and North Korea were eliminated. Sweden defeated North Korea, 1-0, on Saturday in its second game.

"We really struggled against a fantastic USA side," Colombia manager Ricardo Rozo said.

Colombia was overmatched from the start, but goalkeeper Sandra Sepulveda was a superhero in the opening 45 minutes to keep the deficit at just one goal.

Amy Rodriguez was denied inside three minutes, then Abby Wambach and Rodriguez both missed chances four minutes later, with Sepulveda denying Wambach's first chance and Rodriguez shooting high off the rebound.

Rodriguez was in alone against Sepulveda again in the 10th and fired wide, but the opening goal came inside 12 minutes off a defensive mistake by Colombia.

Liana Salazar misplayed the ball outside the area, and O'Reilly hustled to the loose ball and drove a first-time effort from 25 yards past Sepulveda and into the upper-left corner on an unstoppable shot.

The Americans should have added to O'Reilly's 30th international goal later in the half, but O'Reilly and Rodriguez had shots saved by Sepulveda, Wambach put another shot wide, and Lauren Cheney stung Sepulveda's hands.

Sepulveda made five saves in the first half, all of them on solid chances from the U.S., and that nearly allowed Colombia to tie the match before half.

Katerin Castro sneaked in behind the U.S. defense in stoppage time and tucked the ball inside U.S. goalie Hope Solo's near post, but as Castro celebrated at the corner flag, the assistant referee had her flag up for offside.

U.S. coach Pia Sundhage substituted midfielder Rapinoe for Rodriguez at half and moved Cheney up top, and the switch paid off in under five minutes.

Cheney played a pass from outside the area into the top of the box to Rapinoe, who settled, dribbled into space and fired to the left post from 16 yards in the 50th to beat Sepulveda.

Colombia produced a rare chance minutes later from Orianica Velasquez, who hit a long shot toward the upper left seconds after entering the match that forced a diving save from Solo in the 54th.

Just three minutes later, the U.S. was celebrating again after Stephanie Cox passed to the middle of the field to Lloyd, who lined up a 30-yard shot and dipped it over Sepulveda and under the crossbar.

Rapinoe drilled the crossbar in the 68th and Wambach hit the right post in the 80th as the U.S. continued to dominate, and it cruised to the final whistle to remain unbeaten 17 games all-time in group play.

"I'm especially happy," Sundhage said, "that we were able to create so many chances for ourselves."

Solo posted her second straight shutout, as the U.S. posted two straight clean sheets to open the World Cup for the first time.

Colombia wraps up its first-ever World Cup on Wednesday against North Korea.