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USA, France to battle Wednesday for berth in final

Ali Krieger

Ali Krieger started the historic Abby Wambach goal and hit for the winning penalty kick in Sunday's win over Brazil. She talks about the U.S. mindset heading into the match with France. (Photo by Nell Enriquez/http://nellenriquez.com/).

Sixteen seconds before Abby Wambach’s historic equalizing goal hit the back of the net in Dresden, Germany on Sunday, Ali Krieger intercepted an errant pass from Brazilian forward Cristiane and started the sequence. Krieger did not thump the ball forward but instead played the ball calmly to midfielder Carli Lloyd, who switched the point of attack to ignite the game-changing sequence.

Even down a goal and a player in the 122nd minute, there was calmness to the play. The U.S. didn’t just resort to ‘boot ball.’

“You know, that is exactly what I was thinking we kept doing, which wasn’t really working out,” Krieger said. “Once you clear the ball and just boot it up the field, you just lose it again. So I felt like, ‘I am just going to try and connect a pass.’”

Connect. That’s a fitting word for the sequence that would play out over the next several seconds. Lloyd played the ball wide left to Megan Rapinoe, who served a perfectly weighted cross to Wambach’s head and the rest is, well, history. The game was notched at 2-2 and going to penalty kicks, where you just knew that fate was not with the Brazilians. Krieger finished the fifth and final kick from the spot for the U.S., giving it a 5-3 shootout victory.

But now the Americans have to put that game behind them. Wednesday they take on a surprisingly good French side – a team that has been the most entertaining of the tournament thus far. Short on rest and high on emotion, the U.S. needs to be ready for a French team that has no pressure on it.

“We did enjoy it,” Krieger said of Sunday’s victory over Brazil. “We talked about it, we laughed and just told stories about people’s celebrations and what people were thinking and just the nerves, what the coaches were thinking during the game. It was fun to just kind of talk about it and get it all out and then (Monday night) we said, ‘alright, this is the time when we have to start preparing for France, because that is actually the bigger game.’”

Krieger will have a new face next to her in defense. Rachel Buehler’s 65th minute red card on Sunday means that Becky Sauerbrunn will see her first action of the tournament on Wednesday. Sauerbrunn will likely line-up as the right central defender next to Krieger, who said she is confident in Sauerbrunn after playing next to her in two friendly matches against Japan in May.

France will deploy a trio of young star attackers – Gaëtane Thiney, Louise Necib and Marie-Laure Delie – against the American defense. The French also feature a strong midfield, led by Camille Abily and anchor Sandrine Soubeyrand.

But where France could prove vulnerable is in the back. Left back Sonia Bompastor has been one of the best players in this tournament, but the rest of the back line – including the goalkeeper position – could potentially be exposed by an American team that feels its attackers are superior to the French defense.

Celine Deville played in net for France’s quarterfinal shootout victory over England on Saturday because starter Berangere Sapowicz was suspended due to a red card. Neither has been very convincing in this tournament.

The French, however, have been very convincing and do not look like a squad making its first trip to the semifinal round. As unexpected as the United States’ opponent may be, this could very well be as epic of a clash the Americans faced on Sunday against Brazil.

Check out my full preview on FOX Soccer discussing how this could be a trap game for the Americans.

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