[WOMEN'S WORLD CUP SPOTLIGHT] Late goals by Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan gave the USA a 3-1 win over France that moved it into the Women's World Cup final for the first time since 1999. Wambach's force of will brought back memories of another U.S. star, Michelle Akers, and the play of Megan Rapinoe and Morgan underscored the wealth of talent Coach Pia Sundhage has to work with off the bench.
“Abby Wambach to the rescue!” So exclaimed former national teamer and ESPN commentator Julie Foudy when Wambach crashed the far post to head home Lauren Cheney’s corner kick in the 79th minute to give the USA a 2-1 lead. Wambach’s goal, her third of the tournament in three straight games, quelled a long period of French pressure and turned the momentum decisively to the other side.
In postgame comments, Brandi Chastain, Mia Hamm and Foudy all compared Wambach’s incredible prowess in critical situations to that of their former teammate Michelle Akers, whose robust, inspirational play as a forward and midfielder helped the USA win three titles: the 1991 and 1999 Women’s World Cups and the 1996 Olympic gold medal. She scored the winning goal in the 1991 final against Norway, and also netted vital goals in a 1996 Olympic semifinal against the same opponent and a 1999 semi victory over Brazil.
Akers retired in 2000 with 105 goals and 153 caps. She had 12 goals in the Women's World Cup, a total Wambach matched Wednesday.
Subs make their mark. A change in the 65th minute of substitute Megan Rapinoe taking over the left side of midfield and Lauren Cheney moving into the middle in place of Carli Lloyd addressed a tendency for the central midfield to become too stagnant, as Lloyd and Shannon Boxx are somewhat similar players who can be too predictable and were being smothered by France.
Cheney, a forward at UCLA, has adapted well to playing on the flanks but against France wasn’t seeing much of the ball. With the substitution, she slid comfortably into a central position. Even while up front, she prefers to peel away from the opponent’s back line and play as a second forward, and her presence opened up cracks in a French midfield very capable offensively but sometimes slow to close down the ball and fill gaps.
An earlier introduction of Alex Morgan in place of Amy Rodriguez had brought greater movement and speed into the attacking third, but the U.S. wasn’t able to exploit those factors until it gained some traction in midfield. Yet Morgan played a role in Wambach’s goal by lining up near keeper Berangere Sapowicz and blocking her path to reach Cheney’s looping ball to the back post.
Three minutes after Wambach’s goal, Morgan glided behind the French back line to collect a delicate flick from Rapinoe and coolly lob a shot over Sapowicz and thus seal the deal.
But you need the horses, too. Chat boards are brimming with rave reviews of head coach Pia Sundhage’s in-game moves and lambasting men’s coach Bob Bradley for his lack of such acumen, and certainly the praise for Sundhage and some of that criticism of Bradley is warranted.
Yet Sundhage has the advantage of backups -- Morgan, Rapinoe, Becky Sauerbrunn, Stephanie Cox, Lori Lindsey, even Tobin Heath -- who could start for other top national teams. That simply isn’t the case for most of the men’s starters, let alone the backups.
July 13 in Moenchengladbach
USA 3 France 1. Goal: Cheney 9, Wambach 79, Morgan 82; Bompastor 55.
USA -- Solo, Krieger, Rampone, Sauerbrunn, LePeilbet, O'Reilly (Heath, 87), Boxx, Lloyd (Rapinoe, 65), Cheney, Rodriguez (Morgan, 55), Wambach.
France -- Sapowicz, Georges, Meilleroux, Soubeyrand (Thomis, 78), Bompastor, Abily, Lepailleur, Necib, Bussaglia, Thiney, Delie (Le Sommer, 46).