In World Cup semifinal, US spirit tops French finesse

Despite long stretches of domination by France, the US national team reached its third WWC final thanks to late goals by Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan.

Ina Fassbender/AP
US players Becky Sauerbrunn (4), Abby Wambach (20), and Lauren Cheney (12) celebrate the US's 3-1 victory over France in their Women's World Cup semi-final soccer match in Monchengladbach Wednesday.

For the third time in women’s soccer history, the US national team made it to the finals of a World Cup, beating France 3-1 in the round of the last four at the FIFA tournament in Germany. It wasn’t an easy win.

“Historically seen, this is David versus Goliath,” a German TV commentator introduced the game in Mönchengladbach. “But if you look at the performances so far in this tournament, this is a match of equals.”

The next 80 minutes made this statement appear slightly flattering – for the American team. Because the US, two-time World Cup winners and three-time Olympic champions, had a hard time for large parts of the match against soccer nobodies France, who have no title to show and took part in the World Cup finals for the second time only.

The US started strong, scoring through Lauren Cheney in the 9th minute. But then France gathered pace, playing the technically impressive, tactically efficient style that brought them into the semifinals. France duly equalized in the 55th minute and, dominating the game, looked like a winner.

But on a corner kick in the 79th minute, US forward Abby Wambach put a powerful header past French goalkeeper Bérangère Sapowicz. Only three minutes later, US striker Alex Morgan turned the game around completely when she picked up a beautiful pass from Megan Rapinoe and lobbed the ball skillfully over Sapowicz for the final score.

It was what observers here described as the victory of American spirit over French finesse.

The US, the last of the favorites to remain in the tournament after Germany, Brazil, and Norway were kicked out early, represents a style that depends on team play rather than individual skills. And in spite of the US victory today, the World Cup seems to indicate so far that a focus on team play may not be the future of women’s soccer.

“Of course it is easier to create a team if you can chose talent from a pool of 2 million rather than 60,000,” said French coach Bruno Bini, referring to the numbers of active players in the US and France, respectively.

But the performance of his national squad belied Bini’s humbleness. France, and other Davids of soccer, will make life increasingly more difficult for the Goliaths, like the US.

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