The Women’s World Cup final isn’t until Sunday in Vancouver, British Columbia, but Tuesday’s electrifying semifinal between top-ranked Germany and second-ranked United States looked, felt and sounded like a championship match.
U.S. coach Jill Ellis and her players had been saying all week that their best game was still to come, and they were right.
They peaked at just the right time, showing creativity, flair and purpose that had been missing in earlier games. They dominated from start to finish, shut out a German team that had led the tournament in scoring, and danced off the artificial turf with a 2-0 victory that delighted the pro-American crowd of 51,176.
Carli Lloyd put away a penalty kick in the 69th minute after Alex Morgan was taken down by German defender Annike Krahn just inside the box (or just outside, depending whom you ask). Second-half substitute Kelley O’Hara gave the Americans breathing room with an 84th-minute, point-blank goal off a cross from Lloyd.
When it was all over, the typically stoic Ellis jumped up and down and pumped her fists. The players piled onto each other and roared.
“It was an unbelievable duel between two tremendous teams,” said Ellis, who lives in Palmetto Bay. “Germany is a great opponent. They pushed and tested us, and I am delighted. … We knew we had this in us. We had every belief we could win this game, and that is part of the spirit of the American player.”
Team USA will play the real final against the winner of Wednesday’s semifinal between Japan and England. If it is Japan, it would be a rematch of the 2011 final, which the U.S. team lost in a penalty-kick shootout.
Maybe it was the Fourth of July spirit kicking in early, but it seemed it was America’s day even before kickoff.
By early afternoon, star-spangled fans decked in red, white and blue were mingling with music fans downtown at the International Jazz Festival.
Thousands of U.S. fans packed the green Metro line and chanted “U-S-A!” as they headed to Olympic Stadium. The chants continued as the U.S. players emerged from the tunnel before the match, and within the first few minutes after the opening whistle, a deafening cry of “We believe that we will win!” filled the building.
“It was bringing chills to my arms, it was so incredibly loud,” said Lloyd, who was named Player of the Match.
Germany and the United States have won four of the past six World Cups — the U.S. team in 1991 and 1999 and Germany in 2003 and 2007.
The match featured the tournament’s most potent offense, Germany, against the stingiest defense. The Germans had scored 20 goals through five games. The Americans have gone 513 minutes without giving up a goal.
Ellis knew her team was facing its most formidable foe on Tuesday and tinkered with the lineup, as she has throughout the Cup. She deviated from the 4-4-2 alignment and went with a 4-2-3-1 with Morgan as the single true forward, Lloyd roaming and attacking just behind her and Morgan Brian and Lauren Holiday manning the central midfield.
The strategy worked.
The U.S. team got the benefit of two questionable calls by referee Teodora Albon and a rare errant penalty kick by a German player.
German coach Silvia Neid said the penalty on Morgan was “clearly outside the goal area,” and that she was “very, very sad” that a penalty kick played a part in such an important match. “But what am I going to do? We have to live with it. I cannot change it.”
It was debatable whether U.S. defender Julie Johnston should have received a red card instead of a yellow in the 59th minute when she pulled back a German attacker by her shoulder, denying her a goal-scoring opportunity. The U.S. team got lucky on the penalty kick. Goalkeeper Hope Solo guessed wrong and dove to her left as German shooter Celia Sasic went the other direction but kicked it wide. It was Germany’s first missed PK in Women’s World Cup history.
“It’s part of the game, and whether we’re on the receiving end or the other end, it’s not something I should comment on or criticize,” Ellis said of the officiating. “I also think between the 18s we were a very good team.”
There was a dangerous midair collision between U.S. midfielder Brian and German forward Alexandra Popp that left Popp’s head with a bloody gash. Both players were checked by doctors and stayed in the match.
“We said it would take 23 players, and it’s been a collective team performance,” Lloyd said. “But we didn’t come here to just make the final. We came to win it.”