For the first time since that magical July day in 1999, the United States is through to the Women’s World Cup final after beating France 3-1 in Wednesday’s semifinal.
The score and victor are far from suggestive of the run of play, which was controlled by a skillful, technical and confident French side that pressed the U.S. and won the midfield battle throughout the game. French Head Coach Bruno Bini and his young, talented squad has to be wondering exactly how the United States won this game.
France did everything right. Les Bleues controlled the midfield and hammered 23 shots toward American goalkeeper Hope Solo, but somehow were denied on all but one occasion. France only managed to put eight of those chances on goal (compared to the U.S. putting five of 12 shots on frame) and got punished by the gutsy U.S. team late in the match.
It was another bright start for the United States. Just as the Americans took the lead 74 seconds into Sunday’s quarterfinal win over Brazil, the U.S. jumped ahead of France on Wednesday in the ninth minute when Heather O’Reilly played a cross into Lauren Cheney, who beautifully flicked the ball with the outside of her right foot into the side netting at the far post.
But the dream start for the Americans turned into a defensive training session as France beautifully worked the ball through the midfield, where it enjoyed a numbers advantage. Carli Lloyd and Shannon Boxx struggled to defend France’s Louisa Necib, Sandrine Soubeyrand and even left back Sonia Bompastor attacking out of the defense.
Bompastor hit a free kick off of the crossbar in the 33rd minute, which served as a more tangible scare to the Americans. The U.S. took a 1-0 lead into halftime, but France had the confidence and brought that swagger into the second half.
Bompastor and France would finally find net in the 55th minute when she served a perfectly weighted ball into the box toward an on-rushing Gaëtane Thiney. Instead of redirecting the cross, Thiney dummied the ball and fooled U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo, who could only watch the ball go into the side netting for the equalizer.
France continued to press on and pin the Americans back into their own half, but that is when U.S. Head Coach Pia Sundhage helped change the match.
Sundhage has proven to be a tactical wizard throughout the tournament. In a tournament filled with tactical mis-management at the highest level (Germany and England in the quarterfinals) she has perhaps been the best of the 16 managers at knowing her team.
Forward Alex Morgan replaced Amy Rodriguez in the 55th minute and midfielder Megan Rapinoe entered the match for Carli Lloyd in the 65th minute, which saw Cheney slide into a central midfield role. Suddenly, there was more energy in the center of the U.S. midfield and Rapinoe gave the U.S. speed on the left flank.
Both of those substitutes combined for the U.S.’ game-clinching third goal in the 82nd minute, but the hero – the Captain America of sorts – was yet again Abby Wambach. She struck for the eventual game-winner in the 79th minute when she out-jumped French defender Laure Lepailleur to head Cheney’s corner kick into the net.
At the most critical times when the U.S. has looked like it was about to collapse – on Sunday, on Wednesday and just about any time –Wambach has come through to lead this team. She did it again on Wednesday and now the U.S. is one win away from its first Women’s World Cup title since 1999.
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