LYON, France — A month of buildup and high expectations is over. Seven matches played. Seven matches won. Countless records broken. The United States is back-to-back World Cup champions.
Fireworks flew and U.S. players danced in confetti as it dropped out of the sky to celebrate their 2-0 victory over Netherlands in Sunday’s 2019 World Cup final at Stade de Lyon.
Sixty-one minutes of tension and buildup during the match released with one swift kick from Megan Rapinoe. She buried a penalty kick to break a scoreless deadlock and breathe life into the attack. Eight minutes later, Rose Lavelle lasered a game-winner into the net, handing the U.S. a record fourth world title in front of an announced crowd of 57,900.
“I feel like this team just is in the midst of changing the world around us as we live and it’s just an incredible feeling, really,” said Rapinoe, the tournament’s Golden Boot and Golden Ball winner.
The United States carried into the match a reputation as a larger-than-life force made of confident battle-tested players. Nothing could shake their focus, not even the worldwide attention and scrutiny that spun around the team all tournament.
But Netherlands played with confidence and passion, chasing down balls and winning duels. The Dutch were the first team to hold the U.S. scoreless beyond 12 minutes of play. Multiple players went down with knocks and bruises throughout the match. U.S. defender Kelley O’Hara had to sub off at halftime after a head-to-head collision and Becky Sauerbrunn’s bloody face was patched up before she re-entered the game in the second half.
“They gave us a heck of a game tonight,” U.S. coach Jill Ellis said. “Netherlands made it incredibly hard on us. They got numbers behind the ball, looked to transition — an incredibly disciplined, strong team. I said to the players at halftime, I said, ‘At some point it’s gonna break.'”
The breakthrough finally came when the referee signaled for video review in the 61st minute. The crowd waited with bated breath. Then the decision came down: penalty kick for the United States.
Rapinoe stepped up and sent a grounder into the right side of the net for a 1-0 lead. A yellow card was given to Netherlands’ Stefanie Van Der Gragt, who was responsible for the penalty after a high kick caught Alex Morgan in the arm.
“With the high kick, I mean I have a massive bruise on my arm, so she got pretty high up there,” Morgan said. “So I was very happy, because up until that moment, the goalkeeper was having the game of her life.
“They were obviously an opponent worthy of playing in a final.”
Dutch goalkeeper Sari Van Veenendaal won the Golden Glove award, given to the best keeper in the tournament. She finished the World Cup with 20 saves, including seven in the final.
The lethal U.S. attack that has garnered so much praise over the years relaxed after Rapinoe’s goal and the shots started to flow one after another.
Lavelle rifled the ball into the net from the top of the box in the 69th minute to double the Americans’ lead.
Morgan and Tobin Heath pushed time and time again again in the minutes that followed, but either misfired or had shots blocked or saved. By the end of the game, the U.S. had 17 shots to Netherlands’ six.
The World Cup is over. The USWNT has its highly sought-after fourth star.
“First we celebrate,” Morgan said. “I’m ready for a glass of champagne, finally.”