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 Sunday, November 10, 2002 02:08 EST

Hamm's goal helps U.S. edge Canada in Gold Cup final

[Associated Press]

PASADENA, Calif. -- Mia Hamm, who missed part of the CONCACAF Women's Gold Cup because of an injury, finally got back onto the field to start the second half of the championship game.

The United States' Kara Lang, right, battles Canada's Christine Sinclair for the ball.

The career top scorer in women's international soccer ended the tournament with a flourish, chipping a shot over Canada goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc 3:34 into overtime Saturday night to lift the United States to a 2-1 victory.

"I got hurt in the second game and I wanted to come back and play,'' said Hamm, who injured a shin against Trinidad & Tobago and played sparingly since. "The coaches talked about my coming in in the second half of this game as a tactical move.''

Also a smart move by coach April Heinrichs.

Aly Wagner set up the winning goal in the game's 94th minute with a header that led Hamm, who beat defender Breanna Boyd to win the ball. Hamm then lofted the ball from 18 yards to give the United States the title in the game played before a crowd of 6,911 on a rainy, foggy evening at the Rose Bowl.

"Aly won that header and just put it over,'' said Hamm, whose goal was her 136th in international competition. "Karina was doing a good job of coming out, and I knew I had to hit it on the first touch. If I had tried to touch it again, she would have eaten the ball up.''

Hamm leaped in the air in joy when her kick floated over the charging LeBlanc and settled into the net. Beaming, Hamm then sprinted to the right corner and slid into the flag, with her teammates rushing over to pile on.

Heavy afternoon rain stopped before the title game began, but there was a drizzle early in the contest, then thick fog rolled in as the contest neared halftime. By the time the second half began, however, both the fog and rain had cleared.

"Considering the conditions, I thought we played marvelously from start to finish. The weather is a great neutralizer,'' Heinrichs said. "Canada played a bunker (focused on defense) that we've seen in all the games the last two weeks. I thought we found a variety of ways to fight it and created chances.''

Although the United States is 24-3-2 against Canada, the young, up-and-coming Canadians had gone 2-2-1 in their last five meetings heading into the Gold Cup showdown. The Canadians also were the last team to beat the United States in a U.S. stadium, a 3-1 victory two years ago. The United States is 16-0 in "home games'' since then.

By simply reaching the final in what served as the regional qualifying, both the United States and Canada already had assured themselves berths in the 2003 World Cup in China.

After Tiffany Milbrett's goal in the 27th minute gave the Americans a 1-0 lead, Canada evened it on Charmaine Hooper's goal in first-half stoppage time.

Hooper got her seventh goal of the tournament on a pinball-like play that began with Silvana Burtini's corner kick. Canada's Andrea Neil headed the ball to teammate Christine Sinclair, whose shot deflected off Hooper toward goalkeeper Briana Scurry.

Scurry slid forward and tried to kick the ball away, but instead rolled it right to Hooper. She kicked the ball over the sprawling Scurry, tying Sinclair and Milbrett with a tournament-high seven goals.

Milbrett scored her goal earlier in the game on a left-footed volley off a centering pass from Kristine Lilly. Breaking down the left side, Lilly was near the touch line just outside the penalty box when she threaded a pass between two defenders.

Milbrett, right in stride and a half-step ahead of Burtini, fired a hard, high shot that sailed into the top of the net for her 95th national team goal.

Mexico, meanwhile, kept its hopes for a World Cup berth alive by beating Costa Rica 4-1 in the third place game that preceded the title showdown.

Maribel Dominguez scored two goals in Mexico's victory. Teammate Monica Gonzalez scored the first goal and Iris Mora snapped a 1-1 tie in the 37th minute as the Mexicans kept their hopes alive for a World Cup berth.

By finishing third in the Gold Cup, Mexico can still earn a World Cup berth in a home-and-home playoff against an Asian team yet to be determined.

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