- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 1, 2012

LONDON — The path to an Olympic medal is still looking extremely difficult for the United States women’s field hockey team.

Not impossible, however — not after the Americans knocked off their biggest rival.

Shannon Taylor scored late in the first half and the U.S. survived some frantic final moments to topple Argentina 1-0 in women’s field hockey Tuesday night at the London Olympics, a win that essentially keeps alive the Americans’ medal chances.

New Zealand leads Group B at 2-0, South Africa is 0-2 — and Argentina, Australia, Germany and the U.S. are all 1-1, setting up what could be a wild scramble for a spot in the Olympic semifinals.

“We’re looking forward to being back in the tournament,” U.S. coach Lee Bodimeade said.

The Americans are there thanks to their second recent major-tournament win over the Argentines.

The rankings say the U.S. beating Argentina qualifies as a significant field hockey upset. The Americans disagree, especially after how they downed their rivals 4-2 last year to win the Pan American Games — clinching a spot at the London Games — and then controlled long stretches of play on the blue Olympic turf Tuesday night.

“I don’t think we think about things in terms of upsets any more,” said U.S. goalie Amy Swensen, who kicked aside one point-blank chance late in the second half and got plenty of help from teammates down the stretch as well. “It’s wins and losses and we’re just trying to win as many as we can right now.”

Good thing, because had this one been a loss, the Americans wouldn’t have been mathematically eliminated — but just about. Next up for the U.S.: Australia on Thursday.

“We had to get a result today to get our tournament back on track,” said Bodimeade, whose team came to London ranked No. 10 in the world. “We were probably fortunate in a lot of ways that we had to play against Argentina, the team that we respect the most in this tournament and the team that drives us to our best performances.”

The Americans kept Argentina star Luciana Aymar — widely considered the world’s best player — largely silent throughout. When the U.S. won the Pan Am Games final, Aymar was quoted saying that the Americans were not at the same level as the Argentines.

After this loss, she was far more complimentary.

“We tried everything,” Aymar said. “The ball just didn’t go in.” As she carried the ball over midfield midway through the first half, five Americans surrounded her, each no more than a step or two away.

“We just had to stick to the game plan,” Taylor said. “Watch out for Aymar, and play our game.”

The U.S. had a great chance to open the scoring after being awarded a penalty corner with 9 minutes left in the first half, only to be denied.

The denial was temporary.

Only two minutes later, Taylor got behind the Argentine defense and tipped a ball played by Michelle Vittese into the upper part of the cage, giving goalkeeper Florencia Mutio no chance and giving the Americans a 1-0 lead.

That was all it took.

“A complete team effort,” Swensen said.

In the second half, Argentina poured on the pressure. Carla Rebecchi had two great chances, one stopped by Swensen with the right foot, another sailing over the top of the cage with about 7 minutes left. Rocio Sanchez Moccia and Martina Cavallero each had shots from well inside the arc slide just to the left of the cage in the final 14 minutes as well.

“Maybe a bit lucky toward the end of the game,” Bodimeade said. “But we got three points.”

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