Outplayed, U.S. women use another late rally to defeat France and make WWC final.
By Robert Wagman
(Wednesday, July 13, 2011) -- The United States found a way into Sunday's Women's World Cup final with a 3-1 victory over France in a light rain at Borussia Park in Mönchengladbach, Germany today.
The U.S. advanced to its first WWC final since winning the title in 1999 and will meet Japan Sunday afternoon at World Cup Stadium in Frankfurt at 2:45 p.m. (ET). Japan, which suffered three losses to the Americans this spring and is 0-22-3 all-time against the U.S., looked impressive defeating Sweden 3-1 in the other semifinal, not to mention eliminating two-time defending champion Germany 1-0 in the quarterfinals.
The championship match will be televised by ESPN and Spanish-language Galavision.
In some soccer games, a team deserves to lose, but somehow finds a way to prevail and for the Americans, it was one of those type of matches.
Ten minutes into the second half, France had outshot the U.S. 12-4 -- it ended with a 25-11 advantage, 8-5 on frame -- and with decent finishing, half of those French shots should have found net. However, the score was knotted at 1-1, Then, over the final 15 minutes, the Americans gained control of the match and added goals by striker Abby Wambach in the 79th minute and reserve forward Alex Morgam three minutes later.
In the first half, France outplayed the U.S., especially in the midfield. Yet, when the Americans went a goal up in the ninth minute against the run of play with Lauren Cheney scoring off a feed from fellow midfielder Heather O'Reilly and they were able to keep that one-goal lead through the end of the half, it was more a product of France's inability to finish than what the U.S. was able to do.
The second half started much the same way with France controlling play, tying the match at 1-1 in the 55th minute when star defender Sonia Bompastor's left-side cross sailed over the head of unmarked striker Gaetane Thiney, who went past U.S. defender Becky Sauerbrunn and watched the ball go over her head and just inside the far post. Usually aggressive goalkeeper Hope Solo, who never left her goal-line, might have been able to come out the six yards and snag the ball in the air.
"After the (French) goal went in, we realized we needed to pick it up and bring it up to the next level," U.S. defender Christie Rampone said. "It was the semifinals. We brought the team in together and we looked at each other and said 'This is it. This is all we have. Put everything into it.' The team responded."
U.S. Coach Pia Sundhage then made two moves that helped turn things around. She immediately replaced ineffectual forward Amy Rodriguez with speedster Alex Morgan and, nine minutes later, she took out central midfielder Carli Lloyd out and inserted Megan Rapinoe on the left flank, moving Cheney into the middle.
Just as was the case against Brazil, when the Americans surged late to win the quarterfinal, the U.S.'s superb fitness made a difference in this match. Just as Sundhage added two players with fresh legs, France started to fade. Fourteen minutes after Rapinoe's appearance in the 65th minute, Wambach put away a point-blank header off Cheney's corner kick to re-take the lead 2-1. Three minutes later, Morgan added to the margin with an angled shot off a pass from Rapinoe..
"France played very well, but there's something to be said about our players and their heart," Sundhage said. "There's a reason why these players come off the bench and make a difference, because this team is 21 players and I'm very proud of them. At times, we didn't play well today, but we found a way to win. Credit to the players' heart and that's what makes it so wonderful to coach for this team."
In the final analysis, the U.S. won because of its superior conditioning and perseverance, aided by the inexperience and dismal finishing of France.
U.S. Player Ratings:
Goalkeeper Hope Solo - 6.5: Earned her 100th cap in this appearance against France. She has never worked harder for a win. Her save on Gaetane Thiney at the half hour was one for the highlight reel, but she was tentative and might have done better to stop the French goal.
Defender Amy LePeilbet - 6: After several subpar outings in group play, she put in her second solid match in a row and is now playing to a much higher level than in the early matches.
Defender Christie Rampone - 6.5: Her second fine match after switching from the right to left side of central defense to solidify the left flank. Steadied the back-line, especially when it was under pressure early.
Defender Becky Sauerbrunn - 5.5: Generally, she did well in place of suspended teammate Rachel Buehler. She was composed, although she was exposed on the French goal.
Defender Ali Krieger - 6: Was pressured throughout the match. Responded well, but had her hands full with Bompastor and Thiney, from whom she took a goal away early with a tackle in the second half.
Midfielder Shannon Boxx - 5: Not her best match. Looked slow at times against the fleet French midfield and was left to chase the match.
Midfielder Carli Lloyd - 4.5: Good early, but was left to chase the French as they took control of the midfield. Again was lacking in her finishing at a time when she could have put the match out of reach.
Midfielder Lauren Cheney - 7.5: Became the key player for the U.S. Her slight touch of O'Reilly's pass was impeccable on the first U.S. goal and she provided wonderful passes and crosses throughout the match. Was the lone U.S. midfielder who seemed able to keep pace her opponents.
Midfielder Heather O'Reilly - 5: Good early, but seemed to fade as the match progressed. Of all the U.S. players, she seems most tired, perhaps still feeling the effects of a hamstring injury.
Forward Amy Rodriguez - 4: Continues to play poorly. She had a few good moments early, but otherwise left no mark on the match before she was again removed.
Forward Abby Wambach - 7.5: In the right place at the right time as she bedeviled the French defense. Her header of Cheney's corner kick regained the lead for the Americans for good, but she still was missing the finishing touch at other times.
Forward Alex Morgan (56th minute for Rodriguez) - 7: Again, she simply looked better than the player she replaced. Added pace to the U.S. attack and was running on seemingly fresh legs in the critical last 15 minutes when she added the third goal on a quality shot following a good run.
Midfielder Megan Rapinoe (65th minute for Lloyd) - 6.5: Another fine appearance. Came on with energy and was able to hold and move he ball at key moments, while assisting Morgan's insurance tally.
Midfielder Tobin Heath (87th minute for O'Reilly) - no rating: Fresh legs and some good running, but too short an appearance for an evaluation.
SoccerTimes U.S. Player of the Match: Lauren Cheney.
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
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