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U.S. women take advantage of opportunities to advance to World Cup Final

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The United States women’s soccer team is one step closer to achieving multiple goals in this year’s World Cup. One of those was to reach the finals.

With Tuesday’s 2-0 victory over top-seeded Germany, the Americans can put a check mark beside that item. They also desired the chance to play Japan to avenge their heartbreaking loss in the 2011 finals to the Japanese.

The Americans have kept their part of the bargain with the win over Germany. Japan must defeat England later today to punch their ticket for Sunday’s final in Vancouver.

Of course, the United States is happy to be in the finals and would also relish a match against the motherland. It is, after all, July 4 weekend. But there is a score to settle with the Japanese.

The U.S. should be a slight favorite, no matter the opponent. The Americans are seeded second in this tournament, while Japan is fourth and England sixth.

Most of the world calls this game “futbol” or football, but it is “soccer” to Americans. Tuesday’s game with Germany may have left some with the impression they were watching American football.

Hard fouls, trips, penalties, yellow cards and sliding tackles resulted in battered, and sometimes bloodied, combatants. In the first half, Germany’s Alexandra Popp and the U.S.A.’s Morgan Brian banged heads in the box contesting a German attack.

Both players remained on the ground for several minutes. Trainers were wiping blood from Popp’s face and out of her hair. Both players soon returned to the game with Popp sporting a bandage designed to control the ongoing bleeding.

Four yellow cards, two on each team, were given. One of those probably should have been a red card and an expulsion against the Americans.

Early in the second half, Julie Johnson clearly pulled down Popp in the box resulting in a yellow card warning and a penalty kick for Germany. Had the call against Johnson been a red card, as veteran pundits argued for, the Americans would have played short-handed the rest of the game.

Even without the red card, the Germans were poised to take the lead. Germany’s Celia Sasic took the penalty shot. As American goalie Hope Solo dove left, Sasic went to Solo’s right – too far right – and missed a wide open net by inches. The miss would come back to haunt.

Thirteen minutes later, U.S. forward Alex Morgan appeared to collide with a German defender outside the box, but fell inside the boundaries. The call resulted in a U.S. penalty kick that Carli Lloyd buried for a 1-0 advantage. Lloyd set up Kelley O’Hara for the clincher in the 84th minute.

While the United States was the beneficiary of two questionable calls, the Germans had a golden opportunity to take control. Had Sasic made the penalty shot, Germany would have likely gone into a defensive cocoon and surrounded their goalie, Nadine Angerer.

The intensity of the American team is fun to watch, but they are not an offensive juggernaut. Coming back would have been difficult. By posting five consecutive shutouts, it is easy to see that defense is their strength.

“This team has embraced the accountability of defending in every line,” said U.S. Coach Jill Ellis. “We have gritty players at the back, and sophisticated players at the back, and our defensive record is a credit to the team.

It is all about taking advantage of your opportunities and the United States did that. The Germans did not. That is the difference between heading to Vancouver for the world championship, or to Edmonton for the third place game.

“Tonight it will be very hard for all of us, but in a way we would like to have a nice conclusion to the tournament,” said German Coach Silvia Neid. “So after (Wednesday), we will focus on the match for third place on Saturday.”

Edmonton is a lovely city, but we hear Vancouver is a very nice place at this time of year.

Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at Bob@ramos-sparks.com.

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