Defending champions United States reached the women’s World Cup final for the fifth time after an incident-packed 2-1 win over England, who missed a late penalty, on Tuesday.
In a tournament that has earned unprecedented attention, the much-anticipated game certainly delivered with an abundance of excitement and relentless effort, topped by moments of wonderful skill.
It was business as usual for the three-times World Cup winners but for England there was agony as skipper Steph Houghton missed an 84th-minute penalty that could have pushed the game into extra time.
After a powerful start from the Americans, Christen Press, replacing the absent Megan Rapinoe, opened the scoring in the 10th minute with a fine header but the Lionesses fought back, levelling nine minutes later with Ellen White’s sixth goal of the tournament.
The U.S. restored their advantage in the 31st minute through Alex Morgan’s header from Lindsey Horan’s perfectly floated ball — a goal which Morgan, on her 30th birthday, celebrated with a mocking ‘sip of tea’ gesture.
England thought they had levelled in the 69th minute, through another excellent White finish, but the goal was ruled out for offside by VAR video review.
VAR did provide England with a lifeline though, a penalty awarded for a foul on White, but Houghton’s soft spot kick was saved by Alyssa Naeher.
England had defender Millie Bright sent off for a second booking three minutes from the end.
The drama on a remarkable night began before the game when the team-sheets showed that Rapinoe, who had scored four goals in the last two games, had been left on the bench, most likely with an injury although the absence was not explained by U.S. team officials.
There was an unwelcome surprise for England too with goalkeeper Karen Bardsley missing out with a hamstring injury and Carly Telford drafted in.
As so often, the Americans were fast out of the traps and launched a wave of early attacks and high pressing which England’s defence struggled to cope with.
Telford was called into early action to parry a fierce shot from Rose Lavelle after the midfielder had slipped the ball through the legs of Bright and, luckily for the Lionesses, Morgan blasted the loose ball over the bar.
The early lead the defending champions had threatened came in the 10th minute when Kelley O’Hara whipped in a cross from the right and Press lost her marker Lucy Bronze and headed firmly past Telford.
With the U.S. fully exploiting the space they were given in midfield, England were in danger of letting the game slip out of their control but against the run of play they levelled in superb style.
Keira Walsh’s sweeping cross-field pass found Beth Mead on the left and her ball inside was met first time by White, who lifted a side-foot shot in off the far post.
The Lionesses were back in the game but they soon needed Telford again to keep out a fierce snap-shot from the excellent Lavelle.
But the quality of the Americans in the final third was displayed in perfect fashion when Press collected a ball from deep on the left flank and fed Horan, whose delightful lofted pass was met by Morgan with a pinpoint header that flashed past Telford.
Walsh forced Naeher into a full-stretch save with a powerful strike from 20 metres out but England needed the tactical adjustments that coach Phil Neville made at the break.
The improved approach looked to have paid dividends when Jill Scott’s defence-splitting through ball was slotted home by White but to the agony of the Lionesses the VAR signal was made and the review showed the England striker offside by the tightest of margins.
The next time the signal was made for review, it was after White went down in the area under challenge from Becky Sauerbrunn and after some delay the Brazilian referee pointed to the spot.
But Houghton, so dependable in so many ways for England, let the nerves get to her and a soft kick was easily saved by Naeher.
It was the killer blow for England and a major let-off for the Americans. When Bright was dismissed any chance of a late upset went with her.
Morgan hails keeper Naeher as U.S. head back to final
United States striker Alex Morgan celebrated her 30th birthday with the winning goal as the three-times World Cup winners defeated England 2-1 on Tuesday in a thrilling semi-final.
Morgan’s 31st-minute header secured the victory after England’s Ellen White had cancelled out Christen Press’s 10th-minute opener.
The striker celebrated her perfectly placed header by a mocking ‘sip of tea’ celebration as England’s defenders looked on.
“Just incredible by the team today,” said Morgan, who paid tribute to goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher for saving a late penalty from England captain Steph Houghton that could have forced extra time.
“Alyssa Naeher, she needs to be player of the match. She saved our butts today. This was such a great game for us to build on and now we’ve made it to the final. It’s what we’ve been waiting on,” she said.
The U.S. team’s English-born coach Jill Ellis spread around the praise for a powerful display from her team.
“I can’t even express how proud I am. It was just such a great effort from everybody. We had some challenges in terms of bodies and everyone stepped up. That’s what this team is about. I’m just incredibly proud of them,” she said.
Amidst the celebrations after the final whistle, Ellis managed to speak to Naeher and thank her for the spot-kick save.
“I just said that was your shining moment but we’ve got one more game. What a freaking stop, it was unbelievable. But just front to back I couldn’t be more proud of this group of players,” she said.
The U.S. victory was all the more impressive given that they were without one of their top players and dressing-room leader Megan Rapinoe who was left out with a minor hamstring injury.
Rapinoe said the injury should not keep her sidelined for long and she was hopeful of being fit for Sunday’s final against the winners of Wednesday’s semi between the Netherlands and Sweden.?
“It’s just a little minor strain,” said the 33-year-old winger.
“It is day to day but I feel like I’ll be ready for the final. It’s hard, three days on the bounce with this old body,” she said with a smile.
“When you’re on the bench you just need to be hype for the team, give those little tidbits but really just that energy; it helps so much.”
U.S. coach Ellis hails mental strength in ‘hardest route to final’
LYON, France, July 2 (Reuters) – The United States have had to endure the hardest route to a women’s World Cup final ever, coach Jill Ellis said on Tuesday, but added that her players’ grit and determination had set them apart from the competition.
The defending champions reached their third successive final by overcoming England 2-1 in a hard-fought game in Lyon which included the European side having a goal ruled out for offside and U.S. goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher saving a penalty.
It was the third consecutive match the U.S. had won 2-1, using impressive game-management skills to see out the contests and frustrate their opponents where in previous tournaments they had become used to simply blowing teams away.
The gritty performances have been a far cry from the opening matches where the Americans thrashed Thailand 13-0 and put three goals past Chile without reply. Ellis said that in the knockout rounds her players had been forced to tap into their ingrained tenacity.
“I told the players I think this is the hardest route to a final a team has probably ever taken in terms of level of competition,” Ellis told a news conference.
“But they find a way and I attribute that to the mental strength of the culture, the environment, the history of the nation and I think they are vetted in pressure and you saw that tonight.
“It’s resolve and it’s fantastic — games where you have to have that… it’s the World Cup finals, it’s not Sunday soccer. As a coach you rely on players having that mental capacity and that’s through creating a coaching environment that makes it as competitive.”
Part of what has set the United States apart in the past has been their deep well of talent. The nation has dominated women’s soccer, winning a record three World Cups and four Olympic gold medals.
They were without key winger Megan Rapinoe on Tuesday, who scored four goals in the previous two matches but suffered a hamstring strain, but Christen Press took her place seamlessly by scoring the opener and played a part in setting up Alex Morgan’s winner.
“Pressy’s been fantastic. I’ve said this, I have multiple stars in multiple positions,” Ellis said.
“Everybody gets the same attention from the coaching staff because we say to them ‘when that moment comes, play like you’re going to make the difference’ and Pressy sure did that.”
Standing in the way of the U.S. winning a fourth World Cup out of eight editions of the tournament will either be Sweden or the Netherlands who face each other on Wednesday for a place in Sunday’s final.
Ellis was looking forward to having a night off to watch what she said would be another great occasion.
“The Netherlands have had a great tournament, obviously coming off the Euros, tremendous performances by them. Sweden we obviously saw in the group stage and we know how good they are. I think that’s going to be an epic match tomorrow.”
Politicians and celebrities light up social media after U.S. win
American politicians, athletes and celebrities flooded social media on Tuesday to cheer the U.S. soccer team’s 2-1 victory over England in their women’s World Cup semi-final.
The defending champions won a dramatic, action-filled match against the Lionesses to reach an unprecedented third back-to-back World Cup final appearance, earning praise across Twitter.
Former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton saluted the win, tweeting a photo of captain Alex Morgan’s tea-sipping post-goal celebration.
“Congrats to the #USWNT for earning that tea,” wrote Clinton (@HillaryClinton). “On to the final!”
Other Democratic politicians echoed Clinton, days after a row broke out between co-captain Megan Rapinoe and Republican U.S. President Donald Trump.
“Beating England. Right before the Fourth of July. In the semifinal of the World Cup. Congratulations @USWNT. Can’t wait to see you play in the final!” tweeted the leading Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer).
“Congratulations to our @USWNT! I think they deserve a raise, don’t you?” tweeted Kirsten Gillibrand (@SSenGillibrand), a Democratic presidential candidate and current senator, referencing the team’s well-publicized fight for pay equity in sport.
The match dominated Twitter trending topics in the United States for long after its conclusion, with celebrities such as Dan Rather, Ellen DeGeneres and George Takei declaring their allegiance to soccer’s Stars and Stripes.
Billie Jean King, a 12-times Grand Slam singles title-winner who championed equal pay in tennis, also cheered the Americans.
“Go get it, #USWNT!” wrote King (@BillieJeanKing). “Congratulations on another incredible performance!”