U.S. is all about guts and glory
The U.S. didn't need a miracle against France in its Women's World Cup semifinal, just a few more doses of its trademark never-say-die attitude. And now the Americans are moving on to their first final since 1999.
They prevailed 3-1 on Wednesday, but the scoreline didn't come close to telling the whole story. The U.S. was outplayed for some excruciatingly long stretches during the match yet again found a way to push through for the victory.
Abby Wambach, as has become her habit, was in the center of things, heading home the game-winner in the 79th minute after Sonia Bompastor had canceled out Lauren Cheney's opener. Substitute Alex Morgan capped off the scoring with an insurance tally three minutes later.
It was a match that in many ways mirrored the Americans' quarterfinal triumph over Brazil. Once again, the U.S. got off to a dream start, courtesy of Cheney's goal in the ninth minute. Carli Lloyd found Heather O'Reilly in space on the left wing and her cross was deftly touched home by Cheney.
Unfortunately for the Americans, the similarities didn't end there, as the French midfield soon took control. The U.S. central tandem of Lloyd and Shannon Boxx was soon outnumbered by its French counterparts, with Louisa Necib continually finding space between the U.S. midfield and defensive lines. One such opportunity in the 30th minute saw her set the table for Gaetane Thiney, only for her attempt to be saved brilliantly by U.S. keeper Hope Solo.
Solo was a mere spectator three minutes later, but fortunately Bompastor's long-range shot from Necib's short free kick hit the bar.
Yet the French were undeterred, and while there was an element of good fortune about their 55th-minute equalizer, it was a fair reflection Les Bleus' dominance. Bompastor received the ball on the left wing, and her telling cross just missed connecting with Thiney. But with Solo needing to respect the attacking run, she was forced to stay on her line, and the ball proceeded to sneak inside the far post.
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At this point, the French seemed poised to carry on and win the match, but a pair of inspired substitutions by U.S. manager Pia Sundhage helped turn the game around. Sundhage brought on Morgan for Amy Rodriguez, and then Megan Rapinoe for Lloyd. Sundhage also had Cheney slide into the center of midfield.
The changes weren't instantaneous, and Elise Bussaglia went close for France in the 64th minute, but her shot was deflected wide by Christie Rampone. Yet the fresh legs forced France to at least respect the U.S. attack again. Rapinoe in particular began to get on the ball and test France's backline with some crosses. Cheney also provided Boxx with some much needed support in the center of midfield.
Yet it was from a trademark U.S. set piece that it took the lead. Cheney's corner kick found Wambach at the far post, and with French keeper Berangere Sapowicz nowhere to be found, Wambach towered above the rest of the French defense to power home her header, giving her goals in three consecutive matches.
France nearly pulled a goal back just two minutes later when substitute Eugenie Le Sommer nodded Laure Lepailleur's ball just wide. It proved a crucial miss, as the U.S. then put the game away three minutes later. Wambach's inch-perfect knockdown was collected by Rapinoe, whose pass released Morgan into space. The U.S. forward still had plenty of work to do, but her delicate chip over the advancing Sapowicz was perfectly placed and the celebrations could begin.
Now the U.S. is poised to win its first World Cup in 12 years, and the team is proving tougher to kill than Superman and James Bond rolled into one. It doesn't seem to matter how little possession the Americans have or how many shots are launched at their goal. The U.S. will find a way. Now there's only one game to go.
Player ratings (1-10, 10 = best)
G Hope Solo, 7: Saved brilliantly from Thiney in the 30th minute and handled the more routine plays with aplomb. Did have a terrible giveaway with her feet that went unpunished.
D Amy Le Peilbet, 6: Another solid outing, and seems to have found the range with her passes. With the final looming, her timing couldn't be better.
D Christie Rampone, 7: Organized the defense well and had a great run forward that nearly ended with Wambach scoring. The U.S. defense seems collectively better with her in the left-central role.
D Becky Sauerbrunn, 6: Very composed early on, and made good decisions in terms of when to step in and cover for teammates. Didn't do enough to track Thiney on Bompastor's goal, but overall did well in place of suspended teammate Rachel Buehler.
D Ali Krieger, 6: Did what she could to contain the marauding runs of Bompastor, but her passing wasn't always sharp. That said, her tackle on Thiney early in the second half saved a goal.
M Lauren Cheney, 8: Fantastic finish put the U.S. up early and while still needs to clean up her passes from open play, her set piece deliveries were top-notch. Also provided a badly needed presence in the center of midfield when moved inside during the second half.
M Shannon Boxx, 5: Put some good challenges in early, but was eventually left to chase too often as France's midfield assumed control. Seemed to fair better when paired with Cheney.
M Carli Lloyd, 4: Helped spring O'Reilly in the buildup to the U.S. opener, but was too inconsistent with her distribution otherwise. Did put in some key tackles, but like Boxx, struggled to contain the French midfield. Failed to find the target with a free header that could have put the U.S. up two goals.
M Heather O'Reilly, 5.5: Her stellar low cross was touched home by Cheney, but was pretty quiet thereafter. Didn't do enough to help out Lloyd and Boxx on the defensive end, either.
F Abby Wambach, 7: Put in her usual amount of work, but wasn't precise when linking up with her teammates for roughly the first hour. Yet she again came up big when it mattered, nodding home the game-winner and helping to set up Morgan's goal as well.
F Amy Rodriguez, 4: The slump continues. Tried to get into the game with some hustle on defense, but her first touch let her down far too often and was never a factor.
Alex Morgan, 7: Brought plenty of energy, and was kicking herself when she failed to find O'Reilly with a cross. But her finish was top class, and the calls to have her on from the start will only increase.
Megan Rapinoe, 7: Helped stem the tide by getting on the ball and connecting on some passes. Her through ball for Morgan, which did take a deflection off a defender, helped put the game away.
Tobin Heath: NR
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN.com. He is also the author of "Soccer's Most Wanted II: The Top 10 Book of More Glorious Goals, Superb Saves and Fantastic Free-Kicks." He can be reached at email@example.com.
2011 Women's World Cup
2011 champion: Japan
Topics: Women's World Cup