U.S. Women Head To World Cup Final After Beating England 2-1
NOEL KING, HOST:
The U.S. women's soccer team is in the World Cup finals. They beat England last night. Next up, they face the winner of today's game between the Netherlands and Sweden. Here's NPR's Eleanor Beardsley.
(SOUNDBITE OF SOCCER FANS CHEERING)
ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Once again, the U.S. scored in the opening minutes of the game. This time, a header by Christen Press off a cross lofted in by defender Kelley O'Hara. Press was a replacement for Megan Rapinoe, who was out with a hamstring injury. Rapinoe scored all four U.S. goals in the past two knockout games, but thanks to the depth of the American team, her absence didn't seem to hurt. Part of that depth is the ability of every player to fit seamlessly into the U.S. team like a part in a machine.
BILL HAYMES: No, no, no, no. Aw.
BEARDSLEY: Fan Bill Haymes has traveled to France for the World Cup and seen every U.S. game. Last night, he was watching from the Paris fan zone.
HAYMES: To me, yes, they seem like the best collection of players with the best sense of unity and working together. And they've played pretty well right on through, I think. I mean, the first games were easier for them. The next two were harder for them, and this one is going to be a challenge. So we'll just have to see.
(SOUNDBITE OF SOCCER FANS SCREAMING)
BEARDSLEY: What we saw was a fast-paced and physical game against No. 3 England that lived up to its billing. As the ball bounced from head to head, one supporter likened it to pinball. The U.S. didn't lead 1-0 for long. England's Ellen White scored nine minutes later. With six goals, she is tied with the U.S.'s Alex Morgan for the most goals scored in this World Cup. Jenny King from Leeds had her face painted with the red and white flag of England known as St. George's Cross.
JENNY KING: I'm nervous. I'm nervous 'cause I think England could win, but they're going to have to stay awake. (Laughter).
BEARDSLEY: England is just one example of how so many women's soccer teams have taken huge strides and gotten so much better over the past few years. The U.S. is no longer alone at the top of the game. Everyone's watching the women's team in Britain, says King.
J KING: Since the Canada World Cup has really stepped up - but this World Cup has been huge. It's had so much support. I think the new women's shirts coming out has been a massive push, as well. You see guys walking 'round, loads of girls, boys, at the games, families going. It's brilliant.
BEARDSLEY: Many fans in Paris wore the U.S. women's team jersey, which is now Nike's highest-selling soccer jersey ever. The Americans almost saw their lead disappear last night when a penalty kick was awarded to England in the 83rd minute.
(SOUNDBITE OF SOCCER FANS SCREAMING)
BEARDSLEY: But goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher made a magnificent save and kept the score at 2-1. The U.S. win over England was the team's eleventh consecutive World Cup victory, breaking a record.
UNIDENTIFIED SOCCER FAN #1: Of course, of course.
UNIDENTIFIED SOCCER FAN #2: Yeah.
UNIDENTIFIED SOCCER FAN #3: (Speaking French).
BEARDSLEY: The Americans played so impressively, they had many French fans, including Alex Colet and Myriam Douara.
MYRIAM DOUARA: Yeah because it's one of the best teams. I mean, for me, it's the best team.
ALEX COLET: They are the best players. I don't know why, but they are very different. That's why we support the U.S.A.
BEARDSLEY: American fan Michelle Demerskey from Los Angeles has been to every women's World Cup since 1999.
MICHELLE DEMERSKEY: This feels like our year. This just feels like our year. We're happy. The girls are relaxed. I don't know. I'm super excited.
BEARDSLEY: It's the third consecutive World Cup final for the U.S. team. They'll be playing for their fourth World Cup trophy on Sunday in Lyon.
Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.
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