The United States women's national team continued its pursuit of its first FIFA Women's World Cup title since 1999 on Friday in Ottawa, Canada, as it defeated China 1-0 to advance to the semifinals.
Captain Carli Lloyd netted the decisive goal in the 51st minute for the Americans, who will move on to face world No. 1 Germany in the semis after the Germans beat France via penalty kicks earlier in the day.
With the win, the Americans reached the semifinals of the Women's World Cup for the seventh time in as many tournaments, as ESPN.com's Paul Carr noted, which puts them in a class of their own.
Although Team USA was in control from start to finish, it wasn't a dominant performance on the scoreboard. The Americans continued to excel defensively, though, as they haven't surrendered a goal since the opening match of the tournament against Australia, per SportsCenter:
It's been over 400 minutes since USA has last allowed a goal in the Women's World Cup.2015-6-27 00:56:34
The Americans entered the quarters as the heavily favored team because of their status as the No. 2-ranked squad in the world, but they had to fight through adversity, as midfielders Megan Rapinoe and Lauren Holiday were not permitted to play because of yellow-card accumulation.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, Rapinoe and Holiday were among the Americans' most productive players entering the match:
USA head coach Jill Ellis inserted Kelley O'Hara and Morgan Brian into the lineup to replace them, while Amy Rodriguez stepped in for Abby Wambach.
Even though the Americans had to dip into their bench, they were very much in control throughout the first half of play. They fired 12 shots toward the Chinese goal and put four on target, while U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo didn't have to make a single stop.
As pointed out by Detroit Lions wide receiver Golden Tate, the Americans seemed poised to score at any moment, as they provided the bulk of the pressure and offensive chances:
Golden Tate @ShowtimeTate
USA kinda working China right now. Ready for one to hit the back net.🇺🇸⚽️🇺🇸 #LetsGo #USAvCHN2015-6-26 23:52:28
ESPN's Julie Foudy praised the effort that Chinese netminder Wang Fei was putting forth to keep the score at 0-0 through the first 45 minutes:
Julie Foudy @JulieFoudy
Wang Fei, GK for China, is going to be biggest nemesis for #USA. She is solid. #CHNUSA2015-6-27 00:07:13
The United States had some golden opportunities in the closing minutes of the half, including a point-blank shot by Alex Morgan, but it was blocked by China's defense.
Although Team USA was unable to gain an advantage in the first half, Grant Wahl of Sports Illustrated suggested that could change in the second because of the squad's stamina:
Grant Wahl @GrantWahl
HT #USA 0:0 #CHN. US more active & playing the game in the opponent's half, but need to create & finish more chances. Fitness helps in 2H.2015-6-27 00:17:55
Foudy then laid out a game plan that could potentially lead to the United States breaking the scoreless stalemate following halftime:
Julie Foudy @JulieFoudy
US domination but China goes in at half thinking, OK, we are in this. US needs to come back in 2nd half pressing again. Up the tempo. #USA2015-6-27 00:16:38
While Wambach was not in the starting lineup, the 35-year-old veteran still found a way to have a sizable impact on the match as she urged her teammates to break through prior to the second half.
As seen in this video, courtesy of the Wall Street Journal's Tim Hanrahan, the legendary striker was front and center for a pep talk (some language NSFW):
Tim Hanrahan @TimJHanrahan
LOVE Wambach. "In the first ten minutes, we get a f***ing goal!" USA! USA! http://t.co/b5c78hSomC2015-6-27 00:34:20
Wambach's words clearly had an impact on Team USA, as they responded six minutes into the half. Defender Julie Johnston lofted a beautiful ball into the box, and Lloyd finished with a precise header to put the Americans ahead 1-0. For The Win captured the moment:
For The Win @ForTheWin
Carli Lloyd strikes first against China with gorgeous header - http://t.co/XuH1ABRcjD https://t.co/bCooGKQzk52015-6-27 00:46:58
While Lloyd received much of the glory as she scored in her 200th career appearance for the national team, the goal wouldn't have been possible without Johnston's majestic setup.
There wasn't much hype surrounding Johnston entering the tournament, as she routinely shares the pitch with a multitude of stars, but NFL.com's Michael Silver opined that she has outperformed expectations in a huge way:
Michael Silver @MikeSilver
Julie Johnston has been the player of the Cup for the US (so far)...2015-6-27 00:38:46
Wahl put her ascent into perspective, as it wasn't long ago that her status on the World Cup squad wasn't even a certainty:
Grant Wahl @GrantWahl
Worth remembering that Julie Johnston was the backup to the backup at centerback just four months ago. Has had a fantastic tournament.2015-6-27 00:40:25
Rather than putting the pedal to the metal in an attempt to bury China's hopes, the United States played a fairly cautious game after the goal. That strategy ended up working, as the Chinese didn't have enough firepower to threaten in the closing minutes of the match.
Although the United States once again found a way to win and continue to the next round of the 2015 Women's World Cup, a similar performance in the semifinals may not be enough to beat a German team that scored a tournament-high 15 goals in the group stage.
One thing working in Team USA's favor, though, is the fact that Germany had to play a full 120 minutes and go through a stressful round of penalty kicks to beat the French.
That, coupled with the impending return of the well-rested Rapinoe and Holiday, means the United States should be the fresher team when the two sides meet on Tuesday.
The Americans won't have any excuses at their disposal when they lock horns with Germany, as just about everything is working in their favor despite their ho-hum start to the tournament.
The United States once again eliminated China in the Women's World Cup 16 years after beating them in the final, but there is still plenty of work left to be done before they can call themselves champions.
Team USA head coach Jill Ellis felt as though her team performed well in Friday's 1-0 victory, but ESPN's Todd Grisham questioned if a similar effort will be good enough moving forward:
Todd Grisham @GrishamMMA
Jill Ellis just stayed she was "really pleased" with the USA's performance. Um....If they play like that against Germany they'll lose.2015-6-27 01:29:08
The finishing was absent once again with the exception of Lloyd's goal. However, China never posed a real threat, as the Americans were on the attack and in threatening positions for the majority of the contest.
Lloyd believes the United States took control against China more so than they had in any match previously, according to Wahl:
Grant Wahl @GrantWahl
Carli Lloyd: That was the first time we collectively put a team on its back heels in this World Cup.2015-6-27 01:42:32
That may have had something to do with the fact that Ellis fielded a quicker and more dynamic lineup than she had previously in the tournament. That meant Wambach had to come off the bench, but it proved effective.
Ellis also acknowledged that her players did a much better job of carrying out her system against the Chinese, per Caitlin Murray of the Guardian:
Caitlin Murray @caitlinmurr
I asked Jill Ellis if it was a deliberate effort to keep the ball on the ground more. Ellis said no, same game plan, better executed #USWNT2015-6-27 01:55:09
While Team USA had an obvious talent and experience edge over China, it would have been easy for the Americans to fold due to the immense pressure that was on their shoulders.
That didn't happen, though, and Ellis was proud to see her players rise to the occasion, according to Anne M. Peterson of the Associated Press:
Anne M. Peterson @AnnieMPeterson
"This team steps up in big moments" Jill Ellis said, noting the teams play in the absence of 2 key players2015-6-27 01:55:04
As important as Friday's match was, the stakes will get even higher against Germany Tuesday, as it will be a clash between the world's top two teams, with the winner getting a chance to play in the Women's World Cup final.
Team USA certainly did a lot of good things against China and played well enough to get past a squad it was supposed to beat, but Ellis may need even more out of her team Tuesday to keep their World Cup hopes alive.
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