13 July 2011. Mooenchengladbach, Germany. Steady drizzle. Pitch: very good.
Three perfect touches: Lloyd's backheel down the line to Heather O'Reilly, whose cross behind the French back line and the goalkeeper allowed Cheney to come in and deftly steer the ball inside the far post. The finish was particularly high-quality as Cheney was nearside of the near post when she made contact with the ball.
So a great start for the US then, but the French dominated possession after that for the whole of the first half, with centre back Sauerbrunn's inclusion at the expense of the suspended Rachel Buehler has looked a wise decision. Buehler's red card against Brazil in the quarters was considered unjust in the view of many Americans, but she did pull Marta's shirt. By half time France had outshot the US 13 to 5.
Coach Bruno Bini brought Le Sommer on and took the ineffective Delie off at the start of the second half. The impressive Thiney, now with her kit on (she had posed naked to stir up interest in the women's game in France, apparently successfully), is put through by the skillful Necid. Instead of hitting the ball first time with her left foot, Thiney cuts inside and Krieger defends well once more. It is not unsurprising that the Americans have not taken control of the midfield given that their opponents are playing a more modern crowd-the-midfield game. Penetrating runs by either team are at a premium however. The American front pair of Abby Wambach and Amy Rodriguez cannot keep the ball, so the French attack of three in a line, very narrow, in the seam behind the defensive mids, keeps getting the ball back. Notable before Frances' equalizer were Sandrine Soubeyrand's long-range shot, and Abily's header saved by US keeper Hope Solo.
In the end a long diagonal by French left back Bompastor went untouched inside the far post. 1 – 1.
After an hour of play France are still dominating possession. The US has not strung four passes in a row since their ninth minute goal. The Finnish referee (Kirsi Heikinnen: would she prefer the US over France to reach the final in order to defeat the Swedes, should they make it?) decides not to award a penalty for handball against the Americans in the 63rd minute, and then everything changes in the 66th.
Megan Rapinoe (she of the last gasp cross which led to Wambachs' 122nd minute equalizer against Brazil in the quarter-finals) is brought on and Lauren Cheney moves into midfield. Playing on the left flank, every time Rapinoe gets the ball there's danger for the French. Her introduction to the game should be a lesson to all coaches and players. It isn't just a matter of "fresh legs". On a technical level it shows that if you can receive the ball with a great first touch so that you can set yourself for an easy second touch, your defender will drop off you a metre or two. Tactically, if you get yourself in an inside forward's position, diagonal outside runs away from the defender mean you will stretch the defence laterally, thus allowing fellow forwards more space to run into across the whole attack line. The US suddenly, with this substitution, have plenty of possession. They force a corner and Abby Wambach's 79th minute huge leap at the far post means she sends the header crashing into the French goal. 2 – 1.
It is Rapinoe's influence again which allows her to flick the ball under pressure to youngster Alex Morgan. Morgan cleverly takes two forward touches to draw French keeper Sapowicz, and then chips in from an acute angle. Nice finish. 3 – 1.
The question for Team USA coach Pia Sundahge is this: given Rapinoe's superior reading, touch and movement, why is she only being brought on at the end of games to rescue her team from the jaws of defeat? Perhaps the answer lies in the comment by the elder stateswoman of the team Abby Wambach, who when asked after the game how the US managed to come back from French domination replied: "Lauren Cheney moving into midfield helped a lot."
It may have done, but only a blind person would be unable to tell that it is Rapinoe who is the game changer on this team.
Next up for the US: the final against Japan, who play something like Barcelona, and in a strangely unfair piece of organizing by FIFA have just played on the Frankfurt pitch where the final will be held. Also, unlike the US team, they don't have the hassle of travelling to get to the venue. Sundhage better be on her game for that game.
Today was the tenth anniversary of FIFA's Anti-Discrimination Day. Two days ago Fox Soccer Channel's Fox Soccer Report, the TV program most closely followed by American and Canadian members of the "soccer family" had Carlos Tevez's possible transfer to Corinthians as its headline segment. This is more important than the World Cup?! It will be interesting to see if Fox will headline transfer rumours in the women's game during the next men's World Cup in Brazil in 2014.
© Peter Rodd & Soccerphile.com