Spain Challenge the USA
Favorites USA triumph over Spain after an unconvincing 2-1 win in which the Americans looked bested by a Spanish side that put their hearts on the line for the duration of the game.
After 18 goals in three games of group stage play and 0 goals conceded, the Americans looked set to make easy work of a Spanish side which is still evolving and only barely managed a second place finish in the group stage, however, they were in for a surprise.
The Americans got off to a fantastic start as they were able to be their best selves early on. They pressed Spain well never letting them get a good grip of possession, they looked fresh an physically superior. Every 50-50 ball went to the Americans and their efforts payed off. Just 5 minutes in, Tobin Heath was tripped in the area and Megan Rapinoe converted the penalty easily with a perfectly placed strike to the left of the goal.
It all looked like it would be another USA blowout but Spain had different plans as throughout the entire game the players played their absolute best to contain the Americans.
Vidal's tactics for Spain were simple: defend with everything, long balls, a high defensive line to force off sides and relying on his team's energy and stamina to press the Americans. It was precisely this pressure that gave Spain hope as Lucia Garcia recovered a ball at the edge of the box and passed to Jenny Hermoso who put it on the top-right corner.
The rest of the first half was an absolute spectacle as the two teams battled it out in one of, if not the, most entertaining games of the world cup so far. The Americans continued to be physically superior throughout but the Spanish defense made it absolutely impossible for them to get a proper shot on goal. With the Americans doing their best to score and the Spaniards defending at their best both teams grew tired by the end of the first half. Spain, however, were the ones to take advantage of this fatigue as they were finally able to build up play in the midfield and get to the American third in numbers.
The second half rolled around and against what we might have thought the Americans were no better as Spain continued to control entire stretches of the game in which they really looked like they could be the surprise of the tournament. Unfortunately for the Spanish players, Lavelle went down inside the box after a very doubtful challenge from the Spanish defense. A penalty that never really seemed like one had to be reviewed by VAR and after 5 eternal minutes it was finally awarded as so. Rapinoe converted her second spot kick of the night in the same way as the first one. Interestingly, though, after initially taking the ball herself to convert the penalty, Alex Morgan finally decided to give it to Rapinoe. That was pretty much the most involvement Morgan had all game as the striker disappeared for the entire game never really getting into her groove.
After the second goal it was, again, all Spain who tried everything to get an equalizer but ultimately failed as the USA held on to a very thin lead.
Especially good for Spain where the two Garcias in attack, always looking to create a chance and a very solid back line that made it seem like Morgan, Rapinoe and Heath weren't even playing for big stretches of the game. Marta Corredera was able to completely isolate Rapinoe, who outside of her tow penalties didn't do much worthy of mention. Irene Fernandez and Mapi anchored the defense as they cancelled out Alex Morgan to the point where I really wondered if she was even playing.
Spain were very close to run away with this game as they showed the rest of National sides how to take on the almighty USA. I am sorry to say but if the Americans can't better this performance they will be saying goodbye to their World Cup dreams as soon as Friday when they take on hosts France.
For the time being, however, the Americans can celebrate a hard fought victory, but should look to change their ways if they want to win this tournament.
As for Spain this loss means so much more than just a dream shattered, on the contrary, this games is very good for Spain as it symbolizes the hard-fought evolution of the Women's game in the Mediterranean country, which is widely known as one of the best men's nations in the world. The Spanish players should be proud of an incredible game and their strides for equality and the betterment in the quality of the players coming out of the country in recent years, players who will only get better and a system of player development that will surely raise splendid players in years to come. The future looks bright for Spain.