The United States women’s soccer team is headed to the World Cup finals for the first time since winning it all in 1999 after defeating France 3-1 in a very well played game on July 13. The game turned out to be eerily similar to the Brazil game for the US. Just like against Brazil, the United States started out fast scoring in the first ten minutes of the game. The US led 1-0 at halftime despite being outshot by France five tone and out chanced 13 to 5. For the game, France had 25 scoring opportunities and eight shots on goal while the US produced 11 scoring chances and five shots on goal.
France, just as Brazil did against the US, took control of the second half and knotted the game at one. However, this time the United States were able to capitalize on their limited opportunities netting two goals within three minutes to secure the victory. The victory, the US’s 27th in World Cup play, was a complete team effort by the US with the biggest difference being the excellent play of the defense and some savvy moves by coach Pia Sundhage.
Sundhage, who has a record of 66-5-7 as coach of the United States, made two moves at the start of the game that impacted the game greatly. The first move Sunhage made was replacing the suspended Rachel Buehler (red card versus Brazil) with defender Becky Sauerbrunn. Sauerbrunn, who was making her first appearance in the World Cup, made good decisions and was well composed. The second move was moving 36-year old captain Christie Rampone from center right back to center left back. Then in the second half, Sundhage made astute substitutions inserting Alex Morgan for an ineffective Amy Rodriguez and Megan Rapinoe for Carli Lloyd.
If there were any questions whether France, which was making their first appearance in a World Cup semifinal, was legitimate club Le Bleues wasted little time dispelling the notion. France got their first scoring chance with 7:35 gone in the first half when Louisa Necib, with no defender around, struck the ball well from about 20 yards out. However, US goalkeeper Hope Solo was able to get her hand on the ball and tip it over the crossbar. Solo, who has lost only six times in 100 career appearances for Team USA, had one of her worst games of her career. Although Solo played a solid first half and recorded seven saves Solo made some “immature mistakes” and had a bad giveaway that went unpunished.
The United States were able to get their only shot on goal at the nine minute mark when Lauren Cheney knocked home her second goal of the tournament. The play started when Lloyd back heeled, the second of two consecutive corner kicks by France, the ball up the left sideline to midfielder Heather O’Reiley. O’Reiley continued dribbling up the sideline until she found Chaney making a run up the center of the field.
The US had a few more chances to add to their lead prior to halftime however but weren’t able to capitalize. Perhaps the best chance the US had to add another goal in the first half took place at 12:35 mark when France’s goal keeper Berangere Sapowicz, who was shaky all game, left the net open on a set piece. However the US’s Abby Wambach, one of the best players in the air, wasn’t able to get enough of her head on the ball.
Following Wambach’s failed header, France mounted a few attacks that produced great scoring opportunities. The first opportunity was when Elise Bussaglia ripped a solid low shot on net forcing Solo to her knees to corral it. A few moments later France had another opportunity but Camille Abily wasn’t able to get enough of her left foot on the ball to do any damage. At the 30th minute mark, Solo aggressively came out of goal to sniff out a break by Gaetane Thiney and deflecting her shot harmlessly away. The US survived another scoring opportunity two minutes later when France was awarded a free kick about 23-yards away (the ball was placed to the left of the goal). Necib tapped the ball back to Sonia Bompastor who fired a shot that ricocheted of the right of the goal post.
Before the first half came to a close, the US had two more opportunities to increase their lead. The first opportunity occurred at the 37:45 mark as Rampone made a brilliant run up the right sideline. Rampone hit an excellent cross that Wambach headed off the cross bar. Shortly thereafter, Wambach again sprinted through the box this time Bompastor was able to deflect the ball away before Wambach was able to get a shot away.
Following halftime, France wasted little time before generating their first scoring opportunity. Just thirty seconds into the half, France had a two-on-one break after Necib played a nice ball ahead to Thiney. However, Thiney’s path to the goal was stoned by US’s defender Ali Krieger and the ball squirted harmlessly to Solo. France which applied constant pressure on the United States defense (the US’s defense held strong throughout the game with few breakdowns) i finally broke through at the 55th minute mark. After France switched fields (from right to left) Bompastor hit a cross that just sailed over a cutting Thiney’s head and skipped past a frozen Solo. Solo, who needed to be more aggressive on that play, was understandably hesitant with Thiney in the goal area.
Following Bompastor’s goal, both the US and France tried to take a little air out of the ball by controlling possession a little more. That strategy changed in the 62nd minute when Sundhage decided to play a player short after Krieger injured her ankle in a crash with a French player. The US’s defense, just as it did after Buehler was ousted from the Brazil game, stepped up their game only permitting two more scoring chances. The US’ defense negated one of those after a defender took one Bussaglia’s hard shots to the midsection and the other came after a careless giveaway by Solo.
Things turned for the US when Krieger returned and Sundhage inserted Rapinoe in the lineup and moved Wambach to midfield in an attempt to create more score chances. The moves paid immediate dividends as Morgan, who replaced Rodriguez in the 56th minute, ran down a long pass from Rampone. After reaching the ball Morgan, a bit anxious perhaps, crossed the ball way too early for a trailing Wambach. Although the US didn’t get a shot on goal, it did seem to stem France’s momentum and boost the confidence of the US.
A minute later, Morgan (who was ruled offside on the play) had another chance to score when Rapinoe ripped a shot on goal off a set play that Sapowicz was unable to corral. Just when it seemed going to extra time was the likely outcome history was made. In the 79th minute, Cheney lofted her left-footed corner to the far post which Wambach went high in the air to deposit her 12th career World Cup goal tying Michele Akers for the most World Cup goals by an American player. Three minutes later, Morgan chipped in her first World Cup goal just over Sapowicz to insure that the US would meet Japan in the finals. The US had an opportunity to go up 4-1 as Wambach played a nice ball ahead of the speedy Morgan but this time Sapowicz was able to deflect the ball away.