FRANCE – The United States Women’s National team needed two penalty kicks to edge Spain in the round of 16.
The United States dominated the competition in the group stage.
The back-four of Crystal Dunn, Abby Dahlkemper, Julie Ertz and Kelley O’Hara allowed zero goals through the three group stage matches
Spain achieved what seemed impossible, producing a goal against a stout USWNT defense.
USA were heavy favorites leading up the Round-of-16 showdown, but clearly faced their toughest competition of the tournament.
The first clear-cut chance for the U.S. resulted in the opening goal, in the 7th minute.
Winger, Tobin Heath cut inside Spain’s box and beat defender Mapi Leon off the dribble. Leon attempted to pull off a recovery tackle, but her challenge was mistimed and Heath tumbled to the turf.
Forward, Megan Rapinoe chose to take the penalty-kick and coolly converted the penalty into the bottom left corner.
The opening goal was the USA’s fourth goal in the opening 15 minutes of this WWC. France, with three, the only other country with more than one goal in the opening 15 minutes of matches.
Less than ten minutes in and the U.S. seemed to be in complete control with a 1-0 lead, but Spain are not the type of team to surrender.
Spain were able to press the USWNT with success and knock Jill Ellis’ side out of their comfort zone.
Spanish manager Jorge Vilda continually instructed his midfielders and forwards to push upfield as the U.S. often play multiple passes out of the back-line.
In the 9th minute, Lucía García nicked the ball off of defender Becky Sauerbrunn a yard outside the box. García quickly found forward, Jennifer Hermosa, with a pass and the striker roped in her shot over U.S. goalkeeper, Alyssa Naeher.
Neither team could take advantage of their chances in the remainder of the first half and went to the locker rooms deadlocked at 1-1.
The forward line of Alex Morgan, Heath and Rapinoe looked much improved from the first half, but the trio could not string passes together in the final third.
Spain’s right-back, Marta Corredera had her hands full all match with the crafty Rapinoe and was nearly flawless.
As the match progressed, Spain began to enact a more physical game-plan and the tactics ultimately backfired.
The U.S. started to gain momentum on the break with 20 minutes left to play and forced Spain to make just their second defensive misstep of the match.
Midfielder, Rose Lavelle attempted to bring down ball amongst traffic in Spain’s box and caught Virginia Torrecilla with her leg out.
The contact looked light and after six minutes of a VAR check head official Katalin Kulscar confirmed the penalty.
Initially, Morgan stepped up to take the penalty but after the VAR check it was Rapinoe who stood over the ball. Rapinoe, with ice in her veins and the whole world watching, curled in her penalty directly into the same corner that she picked out with her initial penalty.
The unanimous expression of relief could be seen on the faces of every American player and coach.
Spain pushed to create the match-tying goal and came close twice but the USWNT held strong through extra time and booked their spot in the quarter-finals.
They will play host-nation France, in the next round, on Friday, June 28 at 2 p.m. CT. The match will be played in Paris, at the historic Le Parc des Princes.
Written by: Caleb Hilliard