The US Women’s National Team, ranked No. 2 in the world, was doubted coming into their semifinal match against No. 1 Germany.
It was no secret as to why: for as good as their defense had been throughout the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup (1 goal allowed through five matches), the United States had only seven goals to their credit. Meanwhile, Germany had rolled into the semifinals averaging 4 goals per match (20 goals in five matches). Many experts believed that, in order to win, the USWNT would simply have to win a firefight with the Germans’ potent attack.
However, the Americans had some unfinished business, and were on one clear mission: to rectify a finals loss to Japan that has hung over this squad for the last four years. Standing in their way was a German team looking to prove why they were the best in the world.
Ultimately, in what was considered the most anticipated match of the Women’s World Cup, the two squads played to a defensive stalemate – until three key plays in the second half put one futbol power down for the count, and the other into the championship game on Sunday.
It started in the 60th minute, when both teams had missed multiple chances to break the deadlock at 0-0. Germany’s Alexandra Popp was pulled down by USA’s Julie Johnston in the penalty area, giving the latter a yellow card and the former a match-turning penalty kick. Things seemed bleak for the Americans: Germany had never missed a PK in World Cup history (12 attempts). On top of that, Germany’s top scorer of the tournament, forward Celia Sasic, was taking the penalty. One on one against Hope Solo – who hadn’t allowed a goal since their opening match against Australia – Sasic had the opening on the left side of the net … and she booted it wide left.
The miss certainly took out whatever momentum Germany had up to that point. And, unfortunately for the No. 1 team in the world, they allowed a penalty kick to be called in favor of the United States – a gift on the part of the judges, as replays showed that the foul occurred outside of the box, and should not have been a PK. In any case, it was Carli Lloyd who had the match on her right foot in the 69th minute. She guided the ball towards the center of the net, sending goalkeeper Nadine Angerer the wrong way, and gave the Americans a 1-0 lead.
From there, it was a matter of holding onto the one-goal lead – not an easy task against a German juggernaut of an offense that was now desperate to stay in the match. The US relied on their stellar defensive game to prevent a game-tying goal, and got an insurance goal in the 84th minute: Lloyd provided an opportunity for Kelley O’Hara to score her first-ever World Cup goal, to essentially put the game out of reach.
It was a thrilling match that could have went either way in the waning minutes. Ultimately, the Americans beat the odds, and continued their dominance over Germany, having remained unbeaten in their last 12 matches (7-0-5). Now they wait for tomorrow’s other semifinal match between England and defending Women’s World Cup champion Japan. They will play the championship match on Sunday, July 5th. They will either face off against the country they separated from, once upon a time, on Independence Day weekend, or they will seek their revenge against the team that defeated them in the 2011 Women’s World Cup Final.
These women have unfinished business. And only a World Cup will suffice.
- A nasty head-to-head collision almost overshadowed what had been a great defensive first half of play on Tuesday. At around the 30-minute mark, American Midfielder Morgan Brian collided in mid-air with German Midfielder Alexandra Popp, leaving both writhing on the ground in pain. The injuries took more than five minutes to handle, with Popp bleeding from the head as a result. Both re-entered the game, and the subsequent foul forced by Popp could have turned the tide for the German side in the second half.
- USA Goalkeeper Hope Solo has quietly been the rock for this Women’s World Cup team. With help from her stellar defense, the embattled keeper oversaw a fifth straight shutout, though she only had one save in the final stat sheet. Through their defensive efforts, the United States saw their goalless streak extend to 513 minutes – the second-longest in WWC history, behind — guess who? — Germany, who had a shutout streak of 679 minutes from 2003 to 2011.
- It will be interesting to see what the Americans will do in the final match, depending on who wins the second semifinal on Saturday. After all, Japan is no stranger to this level of competition, and they did manage to defeat the US four years ago. That level of familiarity might be preferred for the Americans over a wild card like England – a team that had not gotten this far in the Women’s World Cup in their country’s history.