USA edged Spain 2-1 to set up a quarter-final clash with hosts France as the Stars and Stripes extended their FIFA Women’s World Cup unbeaten run to 14 matches on Monday.
The World Cup has finally started for the Americans, and it’s not going to be a cakewalk.
Tested – really tested – for the first time in the tournament, the U.S held off scrappy and undaunted Spain to reach the quarterfinals and the long-awaited game with France. But the Americans needed some help to get the 2-1 win, with Megan Rapinoe scoring both goals on penalties, the second of which drew a VAR review.
Rose Lavelle was trying to corral the ball in the box in the 71st minute when Virginia Torrecilla came in with her foot up. The ball was squirting away and the contact was light, but replays clearly showed Torrecilla had gotten part of Lavelle’s knee.
A penalty was called, drawing jeering whistles from the Spain fans. The call was reviewed and upheld and, five minutes after the penalty was called, Rapinoe took the penalty.
Spain goalkeeper Sandra Panos guessed correctly, but there was no way she could stop the laser by Rapinoe.
It was Rapinoe’s third goal of the tournament.
The defending champions will now face host France in the quarterfinals on Friday, a game that has been widely anticipated since the draw in December.
The U.S. had breezed through the group stage with a World Cup-record 18 goals and, for the first time in team history, three shutouts. But two of those games were against Thailand and Chile, both of whom were woefully overmatched against the world’s No. 1 ranked team.
Even Sweden presented only a minor annoyance rather than a full test.
But Spain, a team on the rise that had played the U.S. tough in a 1-0 loss in January, gave the Americans everything they could handle.
And showed that those fears about the U.S. defense, goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher in particular, were valid.
Two minutes after the U.S. scored on Rapinoe’s first penalty, Naeher tried to make a shockingly short pass to Becky Sauerbrunn. Spain is known as a high-press team and, sure enough, Sauerbrunn couldn’t get rid of it fast enough with Lucia Garcia closing in.
The ball popped loose, and Jennifer Hermosa pounced on it. Her shot went above Naeher’s outstretched arm, tying the game at 1.
The Americans were clearly the better team as the game wore on, and Spain resorted often to ticky tack fouls. But the game sent a clear warning that, if the Americans want to win their fourth World Cup title, they’re going to have to work for it.
Spain are out of the competition, but against the USA they proved, even more than against Germany, that they are ready to compete against the best teams in the world. They knew they needed almost a perfect match to have a chance and they nearly did just that. They matched the physical strength of the USA and were aggressive when attacking and when defending. They improved their accuracy in front of goal. They stuck together and managed to make the reigning champions’ lives complicated.
The USA only scored from the penalty spot and Spain never gave up. Spain pushed for an equalizer all the way until the final whistle.