The United States women’s soccer team punched its ticket to Paris on Monday by defeating Spain and will play in a “wild and crazy” match against France, one of the most anticipated head-to-heads in the Women’s World Cup.
Megan Rapinoe converted two penalty kicks as the Americans edged a spirited Spain, 2-1, in a round-of-16 match in Reims, France.
The U.S. victory set up a much-hyped quarterfinal match between the Americans and host France in Paris on Friday.
“I think this is the game that everyone had circled,” Rapinoe said of the upcoming match against France.
“I think it’s going to be a great match. I hope it’s wild and crazy, I hope the fans are crazy and there’s tons of media around it and it’s just a big spectacle. I think this is incredible for the women’s game, when you have two heavy hitters meeting in the final knockout round.”
France beat Brazil in overtime Sunday, and for a while on Monday it looked like the U.S. and Spain would also need more than 90 minutes to settle matters.
But then American Rose Lavelle was brought down in the penalty box, drawing the decisive penalty call. Alex Morgan had initially stepped up to the spot to take the kick for the Americans before game officials reviewed the call.
After the penalty award was confirmed by video, the U.S. switched up and sent Rapinoe, a 33-year-old veteran from Redding, California, to the spot. She fired it into the lower left-hand corner of the net in the 76th minute.
U.S. defender Becky Sauerbrunn, who played a role in Spain scoring earlier in the match, was grateful for Rapinoe’s clutch spot kick. She vowed to pick up Rapinoe’s bar tab for life.
“She’s never going to have to buy another drink for the rest of the time. I will supply her with whatever she needs,” Sauerbrunn said.
Experience on the world’s biggest soccer stage benefited the defending World Cup champs, according to Rapinoe.
“So I think halfway through the second half it was like, ‘We have to take it up a notch,'” she said. “Obviously quite a few of us have been there in these big games and realize those moments and that experience was really good for us today.”
U.S. coach Jill Ellis said “heart, grit and resolve” win these high-stakes matches.
“You can talk tactics but heart, grit and resolve — that’s a big part of World Cup soccer. No game is ever easy in this tournament,” said Ellis. “We know that, we’ve learned that. So part of it is the mental piece and I thought they were great tonight.”
Following Group F wins of 13-0, 3-0 and 2-0, Monday marked the first one-goal game the Americans had to face and included the first U.S.-surrendered goal of the tournament.
Just seconds into the match, Spain created a favorable scoring opportunity and Patri Guijarro fired a vicious shot that Sauerbrunn bravely blocked with her face.
Then the U.S. got on the board first after Tobin Heath was tripped up, leading to Rapinoe’s first successful spot kick in the 7th minute.
Moments later, Spain equalized on a U.S. gift. American goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher haphazardly passed it to Sauerbrunn without seeing Spain’s Lucía García fast approaching.
García pick-pocketed Sauerbrunn, and fed Jenni Hermoso who blasted in a shot from outside the box.
Ellis lauded Naeher and Sauerbrunn for keeping their heads on straight in what could have been a devastating moment for both players
“That’s a tough moment and I credit both her (Naeher) and Becky (Sauerbrunn) and the whole team,” Ellis said. “Those moments can absolutely destroy a team, but the team parked it and moved on and that’s what they have to do in those moments. I felt we were going to win the game with our ball movement and possession. Their heads were up in the locker room and they were ready to move on.”
The U.S.-France match, at Parc des Princes, is set to start at 8 p.m. local time and 3 p.m. ET on Friday. That winner will advance to the semifinals, and take on either Norway or England on July 2 in Lyon.
Associated Press and Reuters contributed.