EDMONTON, Alberta – Catalina Perez said last week that facing the mighty United States was “a game I played in my head a thousand times,” but the 20-year-old never could have imagined her World Cup debut would end with an ejection.
“That wasn’t in the dream,” the Colombian goalkeeper admitted afterward.
Perez was shown a red card in the 47th minute for taking down U.S. forward Alex Morgan on the edge of the box on Monday at Commonwealth Stadium in the Round of 16 of the Women’s World Cup, bringing to an end an impressive match for the University of Miami player and, with it, the hopes of a Colombia team that frustrated the Americans in the first half. The U.S. scored twice in the next 20 minutes to seal a 2-0 victory and a spot in the quarterfinals against China.
Abby Wambach missed the ensuing penalty kick following the red card –pushing the left-footed shot wide left – but Morgan scored six minutes later on a goalkeeper error at the near post and Carli Lloyd added a second goal from the penalty spot.
Lloyd stepped up to finish a second U.S. penalty kick – drawn by Megan Rapinoe – in the 66th minute to seal the victory for the U.S. against Stefany Castano, who was the third-choice goalkeeper on the day with Perez starting and Sandra Sepulveda suspended for yellow card accumulation.
Morgan’s fortuitous goal – misplayed by the freshly introduced Castano – brought a sigh of relief for the Americans, who struggled to find any rhythm during a first half in which Colombia never threatened offensively but never broke defensively.
“It’s definitely a little bit of a sigh of relief,” Morgan said of her goal. “Just as a forward we always want to score goals. We’re expected to score goals. We needed that breakthrough at that moment after not converting the penalties, so it was a breath of fresh air after I scored.”
Las cafeteras walked the walk after talking the talk all week, when multiple players said they felt disrespected by the Americans who “belittle” them. But Perez’s red card changed the game, reducing Colombia to 10 players.
Perez made two key saves early in the match in her first career World Cup start. She got low in the 4th minute to stuff Tobin Heath’s shot before Wambach’s follow-up effort was waived off; Wambach was offside on the initial shot.
Six minutes later, Perez denied Wambach’s right-footed effort with a leaping, swatting right hand, and Perez came up big again in the 28th minute when she tipped Morgan’s bouncing header over the bar and out for a corner kick.
And it looked like fate might still be on Colombia’s side after Wambach missed her penalty kick, but Morgan’s goal soon squashed those hopes.
“I’m not giving myself any excuses. I need to bury that,” Wambach said. “Because if that’s in a different moment – if that’s in the 89th minute to win us a World Cup and I miss and it sends us to overtime, that’s on me. That’s on my shoulders.”
The United States’ quarterfinal date with China will be the first meeting between the two teams at a World Cup since that fabled July day in 1999, when the U.S. prevailed on penalty kicks to win its second and most recent – even if distantly recent – World Cup title. China defeated Cameroon on Saturday to advance to the quarterfinals.
The U.S. joins Germany – also a two-time World Cup winner – as the only country to reach the quarterfinal stage in all seven Women’s World Cups. The Americans have finished third or better at every World Cup.
U.S. coach Jill Ellis started the same 11 players as she did in the team’s final group-stage match against Nigeria last week. Wambach, whose fitness was a question mark heading into the tournament, started for the third time in three matches this tournament, pairing up front with Morgan in Morgan’s second straight World Cup start. The goal was her first of this World Cup.
Midfielders Lauren Holiday and Rapinoe will not be available for the quarterfinals, however. Both players picked up their second yellow cards of the tournament, which is grounds for an automatic suspension. Yellow cards reset after the quarterfinals.
Ellis said Morgan Brian will likely start in place of Holiday. Rapinoe said that she could be replaced by Christen Press, since it’s a straight swap.
Colombia lost both previous meetings to the U.S., 3-0, in the group stages of the 2011 World Cup and the 2012 Olympics. This World Cup – Colombia’s second – marks the country’s best-ever finish at a Women’s World Cup. Las Cafeteras head home with the satisfaction of having pulled off arguably the greatest upset in women’s soccer history in the group stage, when they defeated world No. 3 France.
“Undoubtedly had we not had our goalkeeper sent off, perhaps the outcome would have been different,” Colombia coach Fabian Taborda said. “I believe that the outcome of the first half, you all saw Colombia as a team that we showed that every player had a real hunger and desire to play.”
Colombia’s World Cup qualification doubled as 2016 Olympics qualification, meaning the South American side will participate in a second straight Olympics next year in Rio de Janeiro.