U.S.A. 2-1 England
(PM) The U.S.A. Women’s team once again earned their place in the final after an intense and high-paced game from the outset against England in the Stade de Lyon on Tuesday.
Watched in the stadium by a record crowd of 53, 512 the UK television audience broke records for women’s football and indeed was the most watched televised program of the year, with 11.7 million viewers, over half the adult viewing population.
The game certainly lived up to its hype, with the U.S. dominating England in the first 15 minutes, resulting in a goal in the 9th minute from Christen Press after a quality pass from Kelley O’Hara.
The U.S. have scored inside the opening 12 minutes in every game so far and initially found it easy to see space in the England half.
After the first U.S. goal, England seemed to get into the pace of things, with Ellen White scoring an equalizer in the 18th minute after a superbly accurate pass from Beth Meade.
A super save from England’s goalkeeper Carly Telford saw the U.S. denied a second 6 minutes later.
But England couldn’t hold off the U.S.’s pressing attacks, which saw Alex Morgan push a header in after a perfect cross from Lyndsey Horan 15 minutes before half time, which is the way it stood.
It left Alex Morgan retaining her joint contention for the Golden Boot in this tournament, with 6 goals to her name.
Before half-time came, U.S. goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher made a superb save from a strike by Keira Walsh. Neaher was later hailed the match hero by saving a penalty taken by England captain Stef Haughton, but Naeher’s overall performance was nothing less than world-class.
Just before half-time, England’s Millie Bright was given a yellow card for a challenge on Alex Morgan, receiving a second yellow followed by a red card in the second half for a further challenge against Morgan, leaving England down to 10 players.
Leaving her recent political stances apart, former U.S. captain Megan Rapinoe remained on the bench throughout, official sources citing her removal due to a ‘hamstring injury’.
The second half saw both teams play pressing football and saw The U.S.’s Rose Lavelle substituted for Sam Mewis after stepping heavily resulting in what appeared to be a hamstring injury.
Lavelle left the pitch and was greeted with a sporting pat on the back by England manager Phil Neville.
An equalising goal in the 66th minute with a clinical finish by Ellie White for England was ruled offside, albeit fractionally, after a VAR (Video Assistant referee) consultation.
After this, England seemed to struggle to put accurate crosses together. A penalty appeal by England in the 78th minute was dismissed by VAR, but a further successful appeal with 8 minutes to go after Becky Sauerbrunn was judged to have fouled Ellen White saw England awarded the weak spot kick, taken by captain Steph Haughton saved by Naeher.
Despite the stats showing possession as England 57% – 43% U.S.A., England just couldn’t match the class shown by the Americans, who are assessed to be the physically fittest team in this tournament, which is a great credit to their backroom teams.
Yes, England certainly gave the U.S. a good run for their money, but having watched them win that match, my money is on the overwhelming favourites U.S.A. winning this tournament for the fourth time.
England will play Sweden on Saturday 6th July for the 3rd place spot at the Allianz Riveria Stadium in Nice, France – Kick-off at 1600 BST (1100 EST)
Netherlands v Sweden
Netherlands 1-0 Sweden (after extra time)
The following night saw these two teams engage in what was a complete antithesis to the thrilling U.S.A. v England match, with both engaging in cautious, non-pressing play.
The game, played again at the Stade de Lyon at times risked being lulled into a sleepwalk, both teams holding back for the most part, with occasional breaks which left the first half without a shot on target from either.
Sweden certainly gave the most physically aggressive effort, with 15 fouls to Netherlands 2 in the first half alone, but it was a relatively staid affair compared to the previous night’s match.
The tempo, passing accuracy, intensity and clinical finishes we saw in the U.S.A. v England game simply weren’t there.
The 48,452 fans made for a lively & partisan atmosphere, though the entertainment didn’t live up to the expectations of what should have been a lot more of an exciting game.
Midfielder Jackie Groenen, 24, a twice former Judo champion provided the only goal of the match in the 99th minute with a perfectly low-struck shot into the Swedish goal.
Groenen said after the match, “We watched the USA game against England and of course they are a really strong team. I hope we will be able to play our own game. who knows what will happen?”
Both goalkeepers made some spectacular saves in the few on-target strikes there were, with 5’ 9” Netherlands goalkeeper Sari van Veenendaal being pushed to her limit and veteran 36-year old Swedish goalkeeper Hedvig Lindhal performing some similarly superb acrobatics when needed.
Veenendaal will need all her athletic prowess on Sunday, but she will no doubt be a formidable backstop for the Netherlands.
The Netherlands were undoubtedly in better physical shape during extra time, but of course they’ll have had one day less to rest than the U.S. and have also played those extra minutes, both of which could be a factor in the final.
That will see two female head coaches lead their teams for the World Cup; UK-born U.S.A. coach Jill Ellis and Netherlands boss Sarina Wiegman.
Germany’s win over Sweden in 2003 was the only other time a Women’s World Cup final was managed by two women.
The final is on Sunday 7th July at the Parc Olympique Lyonnais stadium in Lyon, France – kick-off 1100 EST (1600 BST)