Ladies and gentlemen, I finally picked an exciting game to review. It was a risky choice though. Semi finals can sometimes be the most exciting games ever when both teams decide to throw in their all to make it to the final. But other times, it becomes a defensive nightmare because ‘attack wins you games and defence wins you trophies’.
When it was announced that USA had benched Rapinoe (me posing as Rapinoe to ask why?!), I was worried for them. Sure, they have a team of amazing women but she was a star for a reason. Rapinoe not only knew how to score, but was excellent at picking out players, motivating the team, and would probably draw the most attention allowing Morgan, Heath, and Lavelle space to move. The Lionesses probably had their own problems to focus on though with Bardsley ruled out with a hamstring injury and Telford brought on for her second game of the WWC. Telford was also in goals for the Argentina game but frankly, wasn’t really tested then (1 shot on target, sheesh Argentina), so this was going to be nervy.
From the outset, the USA were in attack mode and they continued their run of scoring within the first 12 minutes. A few dummy passes caught England off guard and Heath sent a beautiful cross into Press who headed it straight for goal. 9 minutes in and the USA were up 1-0. Just before this though I also loved watching Scott get nutmegged and Lavelle have a powerful shot on goal that was well saved by Telford. Prior to this goal, England had gone 6 hours of game time without conceding but they were now tripping over themselves to bring some formation back into their attack. Though Bronze deserves all the credit in the world for her performance against Norway, it is White who is the true standout for the Lionesses. She has scored in every game of the tournament so far and was not about to let this one pass her by. In the 18th minute, from seemingly nothing, Mead has plenty of time and space to float the ball to White who taps the ball in and truly has me saying “what a finish!”. It is a brilliant goal and it is ON!
England capitalise on the counters and with only roughly 20 minutes of play gone by, have double the passes of the USA. However, the pass stats probably do not matter when you watch the speed and intensity with which the US women run. Lavelle was making me exhausted just watching her out run Walsh and Stokes, and another shot on goal was just saved by Telford. Girl was determined to get a goal and I found myself cheering for her.
Around the 27th minute though, both teams appeared to lose their minds in the French heat as Bronze went for a solo goal (probably should have passed it), Sauerbrunn almost scored a spectacular own goal (England would have enjoyed that) and then Mead shanks a corner straight out (what happened there). It was a messy couple of minutes before the USA regained their composure and reinstated their lead. England decided to keep the mess a little longer with some awful back passes and silly games near their penalty box. The USA grabbed the ball back, slowed down the pace a little and when at first they couldn’t get past the English channel, Horan chipped it delightfully to Morgan who was unmarked and headed the goal in.
Morgan scored, what would be the winning goal, on her 30 th birthday! Happy birthday Morgan! You sure are making me feel depressed about my upcoming birthday and plans to eat Nutella out of the jar.
England went for the instant reply but Naeher made a spectacular stretch to deny Walsh (wOmeNs goALs ShOUld be sMalLer). The aggression starts to build as Bright gets a yellow for smacking Morgan in the face and we break for half time to the hybrid Iceland clap and U-S-A!
Returning from the break, I expected England to take an American stance on guns and come out blazing, but they fumbled over the ball in front of goal, were scrappy with a lot of free kicks given in the space of a couple of minutes, and just unable to meaningfully defend. As my friend messaged me (bless interstate friends awake on messenger!), what even is clearing the ball or running?! Cracks were starting to show for both teams though and the second half was defined by lots of wtf moments. My stand out moment was when we got a slow-motion replay of Daly trying to repetitively pull Lavelle down by grabbing at her shorts and shirt. England somehow gave up on defence, but the USA were already starting to time waste (you still have a long time to go!!) and their free kicks were more pathetic than my love life.
In the 67th minute though, White was given way too much space and went for the finish. But VAR continues to be the cruel mistress of the tournament and her goal was ruled off-side … by millimetres. Look, I get it. Offside is offside but when you think that only a few years ago we would have said ‘oh they were marginally offside but it barely made a difference’ (looking at your Liverpool), it hurts when a toe out of line is all it now take for a goal to be chalked off.
My heart broke for England and for the game because things kind of went downhill here. The USA became pros at time wasting (seriously Italy, take note on how to do it with a little less diving) and the referee appeared to forget about Heath who went out for a minor injury only to be held on the sideline madly waving her arms to be let back in. In the 78th minute, VAR came in to add to the mess and review a possible penalty on White. What at first glance looked like a massive choke on White’s part was painfully reviewed (fffooorrreeevvveeerrr) by the VAR and referee and determined to be a penalty. Sauerbrunn, who almost scored that own goal,
was deemed to have taken down White with a knee to the back of the leg and received a yellow card. She was not having a good night as Houghton stepped up to hopefully equalise and take us to extra time.
Unfortunately for England, Houghton took a pretty slow and weak shot, Naeher kept her foot on the line (thank god, I could not handle another VAR review of these), guessed correctly, and saved the USAs blushes. Bright then added to England’s misery by getting sent off in the 86 th minute with a studs up challenge on Morgan.
As my fellow TLL writer Deborah pointed out, the roar from the Lionesses was gone and they looked to only have one goal in mind. Not an actual goal, but just take out Morgan repetitively so maybe she cannot play the final. It was brutal to watch and given that the USA were falling back deep and just holding onto the ball in the mid, it seemed pointless. I agreed when the commentator said England should have lost 3-1 going for broke rather than playing into stupid defensive games with the USA. Declare war. Push forward, go for broke, and it’ll all be worth it to hear the crowd unironically sing “It’s coming home!”.
In the end however, it was an awful throw in from Stokes that again defined the second half and the score remained the same. England fall at the semi-final hurdle and those arrogant (Kidding! Let’s stop shaming women for having pride!) USA women go on to defend their crown.
That penalty is going to be a major talking point
– Was it a penalty?
– Why does VAR take so long?
– If it takes so long, is it even obviously a penalty?
– Why did Houghton step up to take it instead of say Bronze?
But really, England just did not come to the game tonight. Sure, the USA were on fire early on, but they also made a lot of mistakes and for all their star power managed the same amount of shots on target as England. Both teams lacked that final finesse but the USNWT proved to have the grit to book their place in the final.
Finally, lets all take solace in the fact that Piers Morgan’s tea is now going to be cold and bitter as he is and may Alex Morgan’s tea sipping, birthday celebration, live on forever.
By Nerisa Dozo