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Team USA smothered in semis

PORTLAND — Nothing was going right for the U.S. Soccer women’s national team last Sunday at PGE Park.

Miscommunications, missteps and missed chances characterized the first 90 minutes of Sunday’s World Cup semifinal against Germany.

But despite all the adversity, Team USA still had a chance to tie with three minutes of injury time remaining.

The 27,623 fans in attendance wanted nothing more than for one of Mia Hamm’s crosses to find an open boot — or head — inside the goal box.

One hit the post, another sailed just wide, and the rest wound up in the reliable hands of German goalkeeper Silke Rottenberg, who was the unofficial player of the game.

“This was one of my best games,” Rottenberg said after Germany’s 3-0 win. “Now I’m in the final and want to be world champion.”

After Germany took a 1-0 lead, the stout-framed, quick-footed Rottenberg foiled every opportunity for the U.S., which was on the attack from the moment Kerstin Garefrekes headed home a corner kick in the 15th minute.

Hamm did everything she could on the right wing, delivering a slew of perfect crosses to Abby Wambach, Tiffeny Milbrett and the U.S. attackers.

Shannon Boxx and Kristine Lilly helped the U.S. control the midfield, while Joy Fawcett and Kate Sobrero anchored a stingy U.S. defense, which allowed just one shot in the first half.

But the rugged, well-conditioned German defense, led by sweeper Sandra Meinert, was up for every challenge, snuffing out numerous chances that may have wound up in the net against any other team.

“It was a hard loss because of the way it went down,” U.S. goalkeeper Briana Scurry said. “They were bending and bending, but they didn’t break.”

The U.S. had not been held scoreless in a World Cup game since the 1995 semifinals against Norway (a 1-0 defeat). And if it weren’t for Rottenberg, the streak may have stayed alive.

Hamm, Milbrett and the other U.S. team veterans could practically taste the equalizer during the ferocious final 15 minutes of the game.

But any time a ball so much as approached the German penalty box, either Mienert or Rottenberg would get a boot and/or a fingertip on the ball to prevent a scoring opportunity.

One of the most pivotal plays occurred in the 71st minute, when Rottenberg met Milbrett at the top of the box with her right shoulder after another brilliant through ball from Hamm.

The U.S.-dominated crowd moaned in agony, thinking the U.S. should have been awarded a penalty kick. But the replay showed that it was a 50-50 ball, and Rottenberg had just as much right to it as Milbrett.

“Obviously, I didn’t know what hit me,” said Milbrett, who entered the game as a substitute just seconds earlier. “I’ll have to look at the replays, because it’s hard (to know what happened) sometimes in the run of the play.”

The U.S. went at the German defense full throttle until the 90th minute, when German forward Maren Meinert snuck in behind the defense for the clinching goal.

Germany added another goal in the closing seconds on Birgit Prinz’s seventh goal of the tournament, leaving the U.S. stunned and almost speechless.

Hamm summed up the loss by saying: “I’ve loved every minute of it, and I wouldn’t change one minute. Even in defeat, this is one of my favorite teams that I’ve been a part of.”

Hamm and a host of other U.S. players will play their final World Cup game on Saturday in Carson, Calif., when they face Canada for third place. Germany will take on Sweden Sunday for the title.

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