Posted by Adam Jacobi
You'll have to excuse France for looking a little shell-shocked in the last 10 minutes of today's match against the United States in the World Cup semifinals. The Americans led for nearly two-thirds of the match, yes, but France spent the majority of the match on the attack, and when French defender Sonia Bompastor snuck an untouched crossing pass past a diving Hope Solo in the 55th minute to tie things up, everything looked to be going France's way. When Ali Krieger came up limping after a tackle attempt nine minutes later, the situation started to look just a little bleak -- even for a tie game.
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Ah, but there was still most of the second half left, and when it comes to closers in this World Cup, it's the United States, and then it's everybody else. Outscoring opponents 5-0 in the second half in group play. Last Sunday's comeback. Now this.
When Megan Rapinoe entered the match in the 65th minute for Carli Lloyd, she was once again the catalyst for magic, setting the Americans back on the attack for essentially the first time since Lauren Cheney's brilliant goal in the 9th minute. What had been a match controlled by the French for the majority of play was once again wide-open, and it was that renewed American aggression that forced the 79th minute corner kick from Cheney that Abby Wambach would convert with a header (seen at top) to tip the match in the USA's favor.
If that all sounds just a bit familiar, recall that Rapinoe was also a late substitution in the USA's last match -- that epic struggle against Brazil last Sunday -- and she was the one who sent that crossing pass to Wambach (on, what else, a header) for the tying goal in stoppage time. Those fresh legs and that attacking approach are tough for foes to deal with in the late stages of a match; today, it was a game-changer.
It would be just three more minutes before the USA removed any doubt from the proceedings, as Alex Morgan snuck into the open field on a counter attack and put the clinching goal over the helpless French goalie Laetitia Philippe. Morgan, it should be mentioned, was another late substitution. 3-1, USA, just like that.
Of course, there's more than just tactical decisions and fresh legs that go into pulling out wins like these. It takes confidence, and the USWNT has that in spades this year. "I know that we're going to pull through," Wambach said in an interview after the match. "I just have a belief in this team, and everybody feels it."
Solo put it a bit more bluntly. "Confidence comes from our preparation, and because we know we're damn good."
Hey, you try telling her she's wrong. The fact is, the Americans are back in the World Cup finals for the first time since 1999, and they've got a closer's mentality to thank for it. Now there's one last job to finish: the tournament itself.