U.S. escapes Italy with 1-0 win; final South American team will qualify Sunday in Ecuador

Eight days ago, Alex Morgan was playing in the first round of the NCAA tournament. She assisted on California’s lone goal in its 2-1 loss to Duke. Saturday in Padova, Italy, Morgan played a much bigger role on a much bigger stage and became a national hero in the eyes of U.S. women’s soccer. In the 94th minute of the U.S. vs. Italy CONCACAF/UEFA playoff, Morgan scored off an assist from Abby Wambach to give the U.S. a 1-0 win and an advantage heading into the second and final leg of the playoff (which takes place Saturday, Nov. 27 at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Ill., at 1 p.m. Central time. The match will be broadcast on ESPN3.com).

Following the game, Wambach talked about Morgan’s heroics: “One of the top-five biggest goals in this team’s history I think. Not that I’ve been a part of all of them, but I’ve been involved in a few big goals and for a 21-year-old to come on the field and make that kind of difference to give us the edge to potentially qualify for the World Cup … that’s huge. You can’t put a word or an emotion to it. It’s just the biggest goal of her career.”

Morgan added: “I saw that long ball and Abby is great flicking with her head, so I just tried to get myself in a good position for her to flick it on, cut off the defender once I received the ball and drove it past the ‘keeper. Great feeling.”

The U.S. not only has a 1-0 advantage, it has a one away-goal advantage, so essentially the team can play to a scoreless draw and still qualify for the World Cup.

In Ecuador Sunday, Chile, Argentina, and Colombia are looking to become the second and final team to reach the World Cup from the CONMEBOL qualifiers. Brazil is already in. Here are the scenarios for the remaining teams: Argentina can qualify if it beats Colombia and Brazil beats Chile or if Argentina beats Colombia and Brazil draws with Chile. Chile can qualify if it beats or draws with Brazil and Colombia and Argentina draw. Colombia can qualify if it beats Argentina and Brazil beats Chile or if it beats Argentina and Brazil draws with Chile. The games take place at noon (Colombia vs. Argentina) and 2 p.m. (Brazil vs. Chile) local time in Ecuador.