Megan Rapinoe celebrates scoring her second penalty kick. (Michael Chow – USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
REIMS, France — The U.S. women are alive and well.
In their most tightly contested match of the Women’s World Cup, the Americans escaped Stade Auguste-Delaune with a 2-1 victory over Spain in the Round of 16, a game that was played in 88-degree heat and punctuated by physical play and pair of penalty-kick calls that ultimately determined the game.
Forward Megan Rapinoe converted both penalties, the second one in the 76th minute that broke a 1-1 tie before a crowd of 19,633.
Several minutes prior, Rose Lavelle had been tripped by Virginia Torrecilla in the area, although it appeared that she had been tripped after the fact. Video Assistant Refree was needed to determine whether it was indeed a penalty and officials somewhere in a TV booth ruled it was, much to the dismay of the Spanish fans.
As Rapinoe was readying her attempt, many of the Spain supporters hissed and whistled in disapproval. It didn’t matter to Rapinoe, who rifled her shot into the lower left corner past a diving Sandra Panos for what turned out to be the game.
Translated: the USA will meet France in the highly anticipated quarterfinals in Paris later this week.
The match got off to an exciting start with the sides exchanging goals within the opening nine minutes.
First, Rapinoe converted a penalty kick in the sixth minute after Tobin Heath was taken down in the box by Maria Leon. Rapinoe placed her shot to the lower left as Panos dove the wrong way.
It didn’t take long for Spaniards to retaliate as they took advantage of some sloppy passing in the USA backline in the ninth minute.
Lucia Garcia stripped center back Becky Sauerbrunn of the ball, slipped it to Jennifer Hermoso. Hermoso then curled a shot from the top of the penalty arc over goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher and into the upper right corner for a 1-1 deadlock.
A well-organized Spain side made life difficult for the USA down the right flank, making left back Crystal Dunn of Rockville Centre, N.Y. chase the ball likely more than she wanted and probably the most in her national team career.
The Americans? They were out of sync on attack. Their passes near the penalty area were just a little off target, just missing the intended receiver. When they did take them, the shots were off target.
For example, Alex Morgan, who scored five goals in the 13-0 rout of Thailand, rarely touched the ball in a difficult position and when she did she was hammered by a Spanish defender or midfielder.