If you had watched the United States women’s soccer team destroy Thailand 13-0 in their first Women’s World Cup match, you would have thought the Yanks to have little trouble winning a second consecutive tournament.
Their 3-0 win over Chile should have been affirmation of the USA’s superiority at the tournament. For good measure, the US also downed Sweden 2-0 in their final group stage game.
Yet, Monday’s 2-1 victory of a feisty Spain side in Reims was far from the USA’s best performance of the tournament. It was evidence that the US had it quite easy in the group stage and will need to work harder to win the World Cup trophy.
Megan Rapinoe’s two penalties sealed the victory for the Americans. But what will go overlooked by many is Spain’s ability to defend and go toe to toe with the US. Despite the Americans 56% possession and 10 shots, they managed just two on target and rarely called Spain goalkeeper Sandra Panos into action. Rapinoe’s penalties came on either side of Spain’s Jenni Hermosa’s ninth-minute goal and progression to the quarterfinals looked in doubt for a time.
What should be worrying to US manager Jill Ellis was the team’s inability to break down Spain and create goals from open play. Rapinoe’s two penalties saved the USA’s blushes, which is something they cannot afford against France in the quarterfinals on Friday.
Alex Morgan’s five-goal flurry in the USA’s win over Thailand has proven the limit of her goalscoring exploits in France. Morgan has failed to find the back of the net in three subsequent appearances. The Orlando Pride striker has certainly taken on the persona of a flat-track bully. For much of the game against Spain, Morgan was anonymous with the game coming through Rapinoe on the left flank and, to a lesser extent, Tobin Heath on the right side.
The difference between the pace and quality of Monday’s game in Reims was a night and day difference to what the US experienced in Group F. Even their match against Sweden wasn’t much of a contest as both nations were through to the knockout stage.
It is unfortunate that Friday’s quarterfinal meeting with France is not the Women’s World Cup Final. The two sides are arguably the best on paper. Of course, Germany, Norway, and England will argue that assertion.
A quick browse of Oddschecker shows the US lead bookies with odds of 6/4 to lift the cup. France are at 7/2 while Germany come in third at 11/2. Phil Neville’s England are a bit of a dark horse at 15/2 odds. The Lionesses shouldn’t be counted out having finished third at the Women’s World Cup 2015, reached the semifinals of the European Championship 2017, and won the SheBelievesCup earlier this year. The Netherlands, reigning Euro Champions in 2017, are another dark horse at 12/1.
Although the Women’s World Cup saw big scorelines in the group stage, the weakest sides are now out and the top women’s footballing nations are left to fight it out in France.
The US have never failed to reach the Women’s World Cup semifinals in seven tries. If they want to make it an eighth straight semifinal berth at the Women’s World Cup, they will need to be better against France than they were versus Spain.