July 13, 2011

USA to the Finals

It was a gloomy, misty day in Moenchengladbach, but the United States saw blue skies to final as they defeated France 3-1 in FIFA World Cup semifinal action on Wednesday. It was not nearly so dramatic as Sunday's quarterfinal, but it was surely in doubt most of the way. However, this team seems to find a way to win.

The only change for US coach Pia Sundhage was replacing the suspended Rachel Buehler with Becky Sauerbrunn. French coach Bruno Bini decided to use Ophelie Meilleroux in the left center back position, one that has been somewhat of a revolving door for France in this World Cup.

The first chance for France in this match came in eighth minute as Hope Solo was forced to tip a Louisa Necib drive over the net from 22 yards out. Solo, who was making her 100th appearance for the United States, would have quite a busy day in goal for the US as she faced 25 French shots, eight of which were on goal.

As in their match with Brazil, the United States was able to get on the board early. In the 9th minute, the US worked the ball around to the left, with Carli Lloyd backheeling a pass forward to Heather O'Reilly. O'Reilly, who rarely finds herself on that side of the field, was able to get a step on French defender Laura Georges and crossed the ball toward the six. Lauren Cheney was making a near post run for the Americans and she was able to change the direction of the ball just enough to deflect it past Berangere Sapowicz and inside the right post to put the US up 1-0.

In the 24th minute, Carli Lloyd was able to get her head on a Cheney corner kick, but put it a couple of feet wide of the post. Overall, the first 25 minutes were pretty even play between the two sides, but France began to dominate as play approached the half hour mark.

In the 27th minute, Elise Bussaglia hit a hard, low shot from 30 yards, but Solo smothered it. Over the next few minutes, France put heavy pressure on the United States, taking control of the match.

France came very close in the 30th minute as Necib set up Gaetane Thiney on the left side of the penalty area, but Solo came out and deflected the ball wide with her right arm. Just three minutes later, Sandrine Soubeyrand played a short free kick to Sonia Bompastor who struck a beautiful shot from the edge of the penalty area. The ball hooked away from Solo, but unfortunately for France, it struck the corner of the goal post and bounced away.

In the 38th minute, Christie Rampone made a rare forward run on the right side and crossed to Abby Wambach, who rose for the header just outside the back post. Wambach's header went all the way across the goal mouth and wide of the right post. The half ended with the US clinging to a 1-0 lead.

Bini surprisingly sent Eugenie LeSommer in for Marie-Laure Delie at the half. Delie is probably the most dangerous attacking player for France.

Not a minute into the second half, France had a golden opportunity. Necib sent Thiney into the left side of the penalty area. Thiney appeared to have space, but with US defender Ali Krieger bearing down on her and Solo charging out, she took a bit too long and was never able to really get a shot off.

But it wasn't long before France did pull even. In 55th minute, Bussaglia switched the point of attack to the left side. Bompastor sent a cross into the penalty area from 30 yards out. With Thiney making a near post run, Solo was uncertain whether to go for the ball or play a potential Thiney header. She elected to stay with Thiney. As it turned out, Thiney rose for the header, but didn't make contact and the ball continued on inside the right post to tie the score at one. It was the first goal for Bompastor in this World Cup.

With the game now even and with the US being outplayed, it began to look like Sunday's game was taking its toll on the tired US squad. Camille Abily followed the goal with a shot over the crossbar in the 57th minute. In the 66th minute, Solo made a turnover on an attempted clearance, but LeSommer mishit her shot from 18 yards.

Sundhage made two substitutions early in the half, sending Alex Morgan in for Amy Rodriguez in the 57th minute and Megan Rapinoe in for Carli Lloyd in the 65th minute. It was a rare moment to see Lloyd subbed out since she nearly always plays the full match.

But just when you thought that this United States team might not have anything left, they came alive. A free kick in the 70th minute nearly gave them the go ahead goal. Rapinoe's low drive from 35 yards gave Sapowicz all kinds of trouble. The ball bounced a few feet away with Morgan charging toward the net. Sapowicz was able to block Morgan's shot and as it turned out, Morgan had been whistled offside, although that was very close as well.

Bini made his second substitution, sending in speedy Elodie Thomis for Soubeyrand in the 78th minute. It was clear that Bini was going for the win.

In the 79th minute, the US won a corner kick on the right side. Cheney's kick went to the back post, just a few feet off the goal line. Abby Wambach had gotten past Laure LePailleur and was uncontested for her header. With Sapowicz arriving late, Wambach headed the ball down and into the net from close in and the United States were back in the lead.

France tried to battle back. In the 81st minute, LePailleur sent a cross toward LeSommer on the left side of the box, but her diving attempt at the header went well wide.

The United States sealed the match in the 82nd minute. Rapinoe was able to touch the ball past the French defense to Morgan. She gained possession on the left side of the penalty area. With Sapowicz charging out and from a very tough angle, Morgan chipped the ball toward the goal. Sapowicz may have barely gotten her fingertips on the ball, but not enough to change the flight of the ball. Morgan's chip found the right side netting and it was 3-1 for the US.

France never really had a good scoring chance afterwards. Sapowicz later made a great save on Morgan that prevented the scoreline from getting any worse. For the French team, it had to be a disappointment, because they had played so well for the first 75 minutes of the match. But in the end, the United States had persevered yet again.

So now, it is on to the finals for the United States. The United States have never lost their final match in the World Cup, twice winning it and three times winning the third place match. It will be their first appearance in the finals since 1999, when they won as the host nation in penalties over China.