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July 13, 2011
Weary U.S. women defeat France for spot in WWC Final

Abby Wambach heads home the winning goal in Wednesday's 3-1 Women's World Cup semifinal win over France.
Abby Wambach heads home the winning goal in Wednesday's 3-1 Women's World Cup semifinal win over France.
photo by Tony Quinn/Icon SMI
MOENCHENGLADBACH, Germany—Last Sunday, it was Marta’s Brazil and an untimely red card. Wednesday, it was a fired-up and fresh-legged Cinderella team. But once again the US Women met the challenge, coming up with a pair of late goals to pull away from France 3-1 at Borussia Park and advance to their first Women’s World Cup final since 1999.

The U.S. will play either Japan in Sunday’s championship final at Commerzbank Arena in Frankfurt.

France, in their first-ever World Cup semifinal, flat-out dominated the match from the opening whistle, outshooting the USA 13-5 before halftime. But the Americans made the most of their one solid chance, taking a 1-0 lead on Lauren Cheney’s ninth-minute tap-in from the near post. After Sonia Bompastor’s 55th-minute equalizer, France threatened to open the floodgates, but the U.S. backline scrambled and did what they had to do to keep the match even until a pair of late substitutes provided a spark to put the U.S. over the top.

In the 79th minute, Megan Rapinoe, who replaced Carli Lloyd in the 65th minute, picked off a bad ball from French netminder Berangere Sapowicz outside the penalty area, setting the stage for a U.S. corner kick that gave Abby Wambach her 12th career Women’s World Cup goal, clinching the semifinal win and tying her with Michelle Akers for the U.S. all-time scoring lead in the tournament. Three minutes later, 56th-minute substitute Alex Morgan broke into the penalty area ahead of three French defenders and chipped Sapowicz from deep on the right side to put the game away.

After the game, USA coach Pia Sundhage was the first to admit that her team was still feeling the effects of Sunday’s draining marathon win over Brazil. “We lost our legs,” she said, “but we picked up the heart.”

Even after taking the 1-0 lead, the U.S. women were on their heels for much of the match. Despite stopping seven of eight French shots on goal, goalkeeper Hope Solo looked uncharacteristically vulnerable. In the 32nd minute, she was saved by the woodwork as Bompastor lofted a long shot off the crossbar and right post before the ball bounced back into play. When the French left back finally scored, Solo appeared to hesitate, torn between chasing Bompastor’s shot to the upper right corner and standing her ground as Gaetane Thiney cut through the six-yard box toward the near post.

The U.S. put just five of their 11 shots on frame, but that was all the chance they needed. Cheney’s goal was the culmination of a sequence that with Carli Lloyd’s short backheel pass to Heather O’Reilly on the left flank near midfield. O’Reilly brought the ball deep, then cur inside before finding Cheney unmarked at the near post.

For the second straight match, however, it was Wambach who provided the clutch heroics, shedding her defender at the far post and powering the ball past the helpless Sapowicz off Cheney’s perfectly floated corner kick service.

Morgan’s capped was pure opportunism. She charged into the box and got off her shot half a step ahead of the backtracking Bompastor, catching Sapowicz off her line and sending the ball dipping into the far side netting.

Morgan, who has scored five of her eight career international goals after the 80th minute, almost finished with a brace. in the 69th minute, a foul on Cheney left the U.S. with a 35-yard free kick. The ball was served short to Rapinor, whose long shot was bobbled by Sapowicz. Morgan charged in for a rebound attempt from just off the goal line, but Sapowicz got a foot on it just as the whistle blew for offside.

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