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U.S. women

Wambach's three strikes lead 3-1 comeback victory over Japan.

KUMAMOTO, Japan (Sunday, May 7, 2006) -- Striker Abby Wambach scored three goals, including two decisive ones late in the game as the United States women shook off conceding an early tally and defeated Japan 3-1 in a friendly before 6,681 at KK Wing Stadium.

When 19-year-old defender Azusa Iwashimizu headed home a corner kick in the third minute, the U.S. faced its first deficit in 17 games under coach Greg Ryan, whose record is 13-0-4 since succeeding April Heinrichs on April 8, 2005.

"This is the first game since I've been coaching that we've been behind by a goal, so it was important for us that when we went down, to keep playing our game, to keep feeling good about ourselves and not change the way we play," Ryan said.

The two teams meet again Tuesday in Osaka, the opener of a doubleheader which features Japan's men facing Bulgaria at Nagai Stadium.

"The game in two days is going to be hostile," Wambach said. "There will be way more Japanese fans and I think it's going to be a great environment for us to play in."

This afternoon's contest turned in the 72nd minute after defender Catherine Whitehill blasted a clearance from midway in the American defensive half far into the Japanese end, over the host's back-line. The ball went into the path of Wambach, who out-muscled a Japanese defender, who went sprawling. Wambach carried into the penalty area and launched a left-footer off goalkeeper Miho Fukomoto's leg and into the roof of the net from 13 yards out for a 2-1 lead.

"Lil just did that whole thing herself. She just put in on my head, that part was easy," Wambach said. "Cat just cleared the ball and I got a really good jump on the ball and put it away. Having three goals as a forward is a great accomplishment, period, but to have three different goals like today, it's a good thing to build from."

Japan, which seemed content to settle for a draw, now displayed urgency, but U.S. keeper Hope Solo came up with four big plays to diffuse any comeback. She made tough catches in traffic in the 78th and 88th minutes, punched a ball away from danger on another cross, and came out sliding to smother the ball of an attacker in the right side of the box.

"There weren't too many direct shots on goal," Solo said. "I didn't have to make too many diving saves, but I had to stay so mentally focused to decide when to come off my line. I had to be ready for through balls and crosses and they had a lot of dangerous crosses that were kind of in-between my range. Did I want to come or stay back on my line? But I think I made good decisions when to come."

With Japan pressing forward, the U.S. was able to counter for a final strike. Forward Kristine Lilly, playing in her world record 307th career match, powered past Japanese defender and captain Hiromi Isozaki and carried through the box to the end-line left of the six-yard box. She lifted a short pass to the near post where Wambach, falling backward, tapped a header from four yards out inside the right post from an acute angle to make it 3-1.

In completing her fourth career hat trick, Wambach recorded her 54th international goal in 71 appearances.

"It's fantastic for her, because a finisher just has to get in a positive flow, a positive rhythm, where they just feel like anything they touch is going to go in," Ryan said. "We didn't play a lot of games last year and you don't get (that feeling) without playing games all the time. So for Abby's, that huge, because it's confidence and now, when she steps on the field, she's going to start feeling like everything's going in, and it will."

Japan shocked the U.S. team when Iwashimizu scored her first international goal in her second appearance. The recent captain of Japan's under-20 women sent a 10-yard shot from the right side past a fully extended Solo.

"You never want to be behind a goal, but it was very important because with a young team, you don't know how they are going to react," Ryan said. "Are they going to get shaky or are they going to raise their level? It was only (three) minutes in, but I thought the team definitely performed very well, they raised their level, and we didn't get the tying goal for a long time, but they never got rattled. It was an important game for us."

The Americans equalized in the 40th minute when Wambach converted a penalty kick. She had charged into the box and collided with Fukumoto, who appeared to clear the ball before the contact. Still, referee Pannipar Kamnueng of Thailand ordered the PK.

Fukomoto needed medical attention after her collision, delaying Wambach's low kick by three minutes.

Wambach missed a penalty in a tiebreaker which the U.S. lost to Germany in the Algarve Cup title match Portugal in March. "The PK was a confidence builder after the Algarve miss," she said.

The field was slick after a night of rainfall and a steady mist fell during the game. The conditions made the playing surface extremely fast.

United States 3, Japan 1

Lineups: Japan - Miho Fukumoto, Hiromi Isozaki (captain), Kozue Ando, Kyouko Yano, Azusa Iwashimizu, Tomoe Sakai, Homare Sawa, Shinobu Ohno (Rumi Utsugi), Iya Miyama, Mio Otani (Eriko Arakawa 63), Yuki Nagasato (Karina Maruyama 78). United States - Hope Solo, Heather Mitts, Catherine Whitehill, Amy LePeilbet (Tina Frimpong 46), Christie Rampone (Stephanie Lopez 59), Shannon Boxx, Carli Lloyd (Leslie Osborne 83), Lindsay Tarpley (Aly Wagner 71), Heather O'Reilly (Natasha Kai 70), Abby Wambach, Kristine Lilly (captain).

Japan - Iwashimizu (Miyama) 3.
United States - Wambach (penalty kick) 40.
United States - Wambach (Whitehill) 72.
United States - Wambach (Kristine Lilly) 89.

Shots: Japan 8, United States 12. Shots on goal: Japan 3, United States 7. Saves: Japan 3, United States 2 Corner kicks: Japan 2, United States 7. Fouls: Japan 5, United States 7. Offside: Japan 1, United States 9. Yellow card cautions: United States - Lloyd 41.

Referee: Pannipar Kamnueng (Thailand). Assistant referees: Hisae Yoshizawa (Japan), Satomi Hamasaki (Japan). Fourth official: Hong Eun Ha (South Korea). Attendance: 6,681 at KK Wing Stadium in Kumamoto, Japan. Weather: Rain, misty, 65 degrees.

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