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The United States Women’s Soccer team defeated France by a score of 3-1 in the semi-finals of the FIFA World Cup to move on to their first final’s appearance since their dominant 1999 victory.
In incredible fashion, which seems to be the way they like to do it, the Americans snatched the game away from France in the last minutes despite being dominated for much of the match.
The U.S. Had previously lost two consecutive semi-final matches in the World Cup, and weren’t going to go down this time without a serious fight.
On the heels of one of the best matches in World Cup history, the United States was forced to put their celebrations aside and prepare for a tough French team that had been playing well to this point in the tournament.
Though they have usually been a second-half team, the U.S.A. struck early in this one, taking a 1-0 lead in the ninth minute. Heather O’Reilly made a quick move down the sideline past the French defense and launched a low cross to the feet of Lauren Cheyney who was able to make a beautiful touch, redirecting the ball to the far side of the net, just past the French goalkeeper.
Pia Sundhage seemed to have her team much more focused at the start of this match, playing with the same intensity that fans saw in the second half and overtime of the incredible quarter-final game against Brazil. Sometimes teams have a bit of a hangover after a match such as that, especially one which lasts a whopping 123 minutes plus penalty kicks. The U.S. looked like they were as fresh as ever, but the tides would soon turn.
The French saw their first realistic opportunity pass byjust after in the 29th minute when Louisa Necib, the talented French midfielder, saw Hope Solo charge at her inside the box and deflect the shot out of play.
France was knocking on the door with serious momentum in the 32nd minute when a short free kick ended up hitting the crossbar behind the American goalie. It seemed as though one goal would not be enough to hold down this inspired French team.
Finally in the 37th minute the U.S. snatched back some momentum when Christie Rampone made a rare long run down the sideline, crossing a high ball toward Wambach on the far post who just missed, heading her own ball off the crossbar. It was only a matter of time til Wambach would get one on target.
All throughout the first half the French squad dictated the style of play and were able to fire countless shots from range against the United States defense, but the shots would need to come from much closer to get past the remarkable Solo.
It was an incredible half to watch from a fan’s standpoint with tons of shots and offensive opportunities. Though France surely outplayed the United States with regards to time of possession and shots on goal, the U.S. came away with the one goal advantage on the scoreboard, and had many scoring threats of their own in his back-and-forth match. This game was far from over.
The second half began with no immediate substitutions from either side and the incredibly play continued right from the whistle.
France immediately came out firing again, sending numbers at the Americans just about every time they touched the ball, but the American back line continued to be strong in front of their star goalie and seemed to sense that it would be on their shoulders to win this game for the United States.
After all of the legitimate chances France had, the 54th minute brought about a broken play to finally breach the U.S. defense. France’s star left back Sonia Bompastor attempted to cross a curling ball in front of goal causing Hope Solo to pick up the forward trying to get on the end of the cross. Unfortunately for the Americans, the ball sailed over the hopeful forward and trickled into the net for an equalizing goal. No matter how, the score was now level.
Carli Lloyd was subbed out for the first time in this World Cup in the 64th minute in favor of Megan Rapinoe with hopes of creating a spark for the U.S. attack in addition to getting some fresh legs into the game.
Rapinoe certainly had a positive impact on the squad forcing many balls into the middle and in the 78th minute earned the U.S a corner with another one of her quick runs.
Abby Wambach came to the rescue once again for the Americans with her incredible strength and leaping ability. On that corner she was able to strike the ball with great pace into the back of the net. 2-1, advantage America.
Wambach had reportedly been bothered by a nagging right achilles injury causing her to miss some practice time throughout this World Cup tournament. Regardless, when she’s on the field, she will always be a key target on the offensive end with her incredible heading abilities. Coming into the game Wambach needed only one goal to tie the United States World Cup record of twelve held by Michelle Akers and with her second incredibly clutch moment of the tournament she had done so.
The French defense was quickly breaking down and speedy forward Alex Morgan was able to take advantage immediately after the Wambach goal. She was able to lift the ball just over the keeper’s fingertips, floating it into the net and putting the game away for the Americans after being dominated for so much of the match. The U.S. Was surely headed to Frankfurt.
As the final whistle blew jubilation came over the players and fans once again as they now knew they would be onto their third World Cup final.
One of the biggest pre-game stories was how U.S. defender Rachel Buehler, was replaced by Becky Sauerbrunn due to Buehler’s suspension thanks to a red card in the second half against Brazil. Buehler had struggled mightily to this point but coach Pia Sundhage was rolling the dice on Sauerbrunn who had been yet to make any touches in this years World Cup.
Sauerbrunn made her coach look so wise with her decision by playing up to her potential and beyond. The young defender showed that she could be the future replacement for captain Christie Rampone when she decides to retire. The question now will be who to start on the back line for the finals match-up.
Speaking of the captain, not nearly enough credit has been given to Christie Rampone throughout these matches. The 36 year old has played multiple spots on the defensive end for the United States and has been a rock along the back line. At her age she is still just as fast as she ever was, and might be playing the best soccer of anybody in the tournament. She will surely be a key component should the team want to come away from the finals victorious.
Hope Solo, who has recently become one of my more popular players in the world shined again in her 100th international appearance. Remarkably in those 100 games she has had 55 shutouts with only 6 defeats to her name, proving why she is constantly referred to as the best goalkeeper in the world. This performance surely backed up her reputation, keeping countless French chances out of the net en route to another clutch U.S. Victory.
Fight, heart, determination and character. Not enough adjectives can be given to describe this United States team. It has been a fairy tale run to this point, qualifying last even as number one in the world. Notching incredible late victories in the knockout stages, and moving on to yet another World Cup final.
When you think you have the U.S.A. Down and out, they shine the brightest.
Coach Pia Sundhage was asked what made the difference in the match she replied simply with “a big heart.” They will surely come out with that same heart in the finals looking to win their first World Cup in 12 years.
The final battle for the cup will be played in the beautiful Frankfurt stadium on Sunday, July 17th.