It was a Women’s World Cup semifinal of surprises and drama on a balmy night in the suburbs of Lyon, France. A legend got left on the bench and an understudy stepped up amid controversy and clutch plays into the final minutes.
The biggest surprise was before the match. USA Head Coach Jill Ellis decided to replace Megan Rapinoe, reported to have a leg injury, with Christen Press. The veteran forward is a solid campaigner with 121 career caps, but not necessarily the first person mentioned on the scouting report.
In the game’s 10th minute, Press surprised England.
She turned a Kelley O’Hara cross into a floating header past England keeper Carly Telford for the game’s opening goal, as the Americans went on the offensive in the first half with 9 shots.
England surged back in the 19th minute. Beth Mead fed a sneaking Ellen White who kicked a goal past Alyssa Naeher to the tie the game. The Lionesses tried to press the advantage with two other dangerous chances to the take the lead, but Naeher made key saves to turn them away.
In the 31st minute, Team USA snatched the lead back as Lindsey Horan sailed a pass to a streaking Alex Morgan, celebrating her 30th birthday, for the header and the go-ahead goal to give USA a 2-1 halftime advantage.
The second half was marked by two dramatic plays that decided the game. Both involved the Video Assisted Referee.
In the 69th minute, Keira Walsh found White again between the USA center backs and White finished what was thought to be the tying goal, but the VAR called offsides, and the goal was disallowed.
Then in the 82nd minute, White and USA center back Becky Sauerbrunn were battling for the ball in the penalty area. The VAR and referee Elisa Alves Batista reviewed and confirmed the penalty for rough play. Sauerbrunn was booked for a yellow card and England was awarded a penalty shot.
Stephanie Houghton stepped in against Naeher. Facing England’s captain, the USA keeper, who had been under a barrage in the second half, made a diving stop that proved to be the winning stop, as the USA held on through penalty time for a third consecutive 2-1 victory in the tournament.
The three-time World Cup champions will now will face either the Netherlands or Sweden in Sunday’s Cup final. For England, the loss leads to a second consecutive appearance in the third-place play-off Saturday against the loser of Thursday’s semifinal match.