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USWNT sneaks by Spain 2-1 in gritty World Cup match, advances to quarterfinals

The United States now moves on to Paris for a much-anticipated quarterfinal Friday against host France.

United States'Alex Morgan, right, is challenged by Spain's Irene Paredes, left, challenges during the Women's World Cup round of 16 soccer match between Spain and US at the Stade Auguste-Delaune in Reims, France, Monday, June 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

REIMS, France — The match started the way everyone expected it to, with a United States goal. Fans in the stadium roared in approval and chanted with glee. 

But two minutes later, Spain became the first team in the tournament to score on the Americans. What followed was a high-intensity, gritty match the USWNT won 2-1 off a pair of penalty kicks converted by Megan Rapinoe. 

The Monday evening victory sent the U.S. through to the quarterfinals of the 2019 Women’s World Cup, and sent Spain home.

“When you get into the knockout round, it’s always so much more pressure and so much more tense, everything matters, every play matters,” Rapinoe said. “I think halfway through the second half we said, ‘We needed to take this up a notch.’ Obviously, there’s quite a few of us that have been there in these big games to sort of realize those moments and that experience was really big for us today.”

Spain started off fiery on attack, immediately threatening the U.S. goal. But just a few minutes into the game, defender Abby Dahlkemper played a long ball forward to Tobin Heath, who took it into the box. The Spain defender trying to stay with Heath stepped on her foot and the referee awarded a penalty kick. Rapinoe sent the seventh-minute PK into the lower left corner of the net.

Two minutes later, U.S. goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher played a ball out of the back to Becky Sauerbrunn, despite heavy pressure from Spain. Lucia Garcia stole the ball and got it to Jennifer Hermoso, who took her time at the top of the box and rifled the ball over Naeher’s head to tie the game 1-1. 

“That was just one big mistake, and I actually think she responded really well to it,” Sauerbrunn said of Naeher, who went on to make some important stops.

Spain continued to find open space in the midfield and get behind defenders on the United States’ left side. The USWNT countered and also looked dangerous, but passes between the midfielders and forwards appeared somewhat disjointed and the final touch often flew off-target.

The score remained the same until the end of what was the most action-packed and tense half the United States had played all tournament. Spain kept up with the Americans’ speed and physicality into the second half.

“We knew there would be times they’d possess well. I guess I wasn’t expecting the physicality as much,” U.S. striker Alex Morgan said. “I don’t know about anybody else, but I was feeling it. Our chiropractor was here and I don’t think I’ll need him anymore because I got a good crack.”

The announced crowd of 19,633 largely favored the Americans, but during a moment late in the second half, chants in support of Spain rang through Stade Auguste-Delaune.

Rose Lavelle had just fallen while streaking through the box. The referee called a penalty. The replay seemed to show minimal contact between a Spain player’s cleat and Lavelle’s calf. It took an unusually long time for the official to signal for video review, which sparked the chants and boos from Spanish fans. 

After consulting with the Video Assistant Referee (VAR), the penalty stood, and Rapinoe again converted for a 75th-minute game-winner. 

The United States now moves on to Paris for a much-anticipated quarterfinal match Friday against host France.

“It was great that some of these players who have never played in a World Cup experienced a tight game, experienced a game you gotta grind at times, experienced a game you gotta shut down — you give up a goal, you gotta fight back,” U.S. coach Jill Ellis said. “All of that is part of what we need to be ready for the next opponent.”

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