Megan Rapinoe, Rose Lavelle lead USWNT to historic Women's World Cup win


Megan Rapinoe, Rose Lavelle lead USWNT to historic Women's World Cup win

The United States Women's National Team wanted the pressure. They welcomed it. In France, they thrived on it.

Seeking to win back-to-back Women's World Cup titles for the first time in their country's history, Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan and the most dominant soccer force on the planet asked for the pressure of playing host nation France in the quarterfinal. Rapinoe specifically hoped it would be a "s--show." Facing the team with the best shot to knock them off, Rapinoe buried two goals to lead the USWNT past France and into the semifinals. 

After a 2-1 win over England, only the underdog Netherlands squad stood between soccer's Goliath and destiny. 

Once again, all the pressure was on the U.S. on Sunday in Lyon. Once again, they thrived as only those who etch themselves into the annals of history can.

The first half belonged to Dutch goalkeeper Sari van Veenendaal who made four fantastic saves in the first half to keep the game scoreless. 

But with the upstart Dutch feeling confident about knocking off the world's best -- and thoughts of Japan's 2011 upset creeping into consciousness -- the USWNT didn't bend, buckle or flinch. 

They flexed.

In the 58th minute, Morgan went down in the box after being contacted by Stefanie van der Gragt, who's cleat struck Morgan up near her shoulder. While the U.S. initially was given a corner kick, the referee elected to review the play and awarded the USWNT a penalty kick.

Rapinoe stepped up to the dot and calmly broke van Veenendaal wall, scoring her sixth goal of the tournament and 50th career goal for her country.

Holding a 1-0 lead, the USWNT could have looked to hold onto their narrow advantage and leave Lyon with a 1-0 win. Instead, America's heroes smelt blood and went for the kill.

In the 69th minute, with the Dutch pressing up to find an equalizer, the U.S. went on the counter and struck the death blow to the Netherlands.

Rose Lavelle raced down the middle of the Dutch defense, took a quality touch to set up her favored left foot and put it past van Veenendaal with a brilliant strike into the bottom corner.

As the ball found the back of the net, Lavelle let out a primal scream. Her teammates swarmed her, sensing history was within their grasp.

USWNT 2, Netherland 0.

Seven games, seven wins. The party was on.

Rapinoe took home the Golden Boot as the tournament's top scorer and the Golden Ball as its best player. Morgan took home the Silver Boot.

More importantly, the USWNT repeated for the first time in history and became just the second team to retain the trophy.

"We're crazy, that's what makes us special," Rapinoe told FOX after the win. "We have no quit in us, we're so tight and we'll do anything to win.

"It's unbelievable just to know all of the people in our group that put in so much work: the players, our friends and family are here, it's surreal. I don't know how to feel right now, it's ridiculous."

[RELATED: Rapinoe slams FIFA over gender pay gap, scheduling]

The USWNT was crazy, yes. But what made Rapinoe, Morgan, Lavelle and Co. special was how they welcomed the pressure both and off the pitch.

They spoke out on a wealth of issues from the gender pay gap in soccer to the double standard when it comes to celebrations. They spoke eloquently and fiercely and then went out and dominated their opponents.

They injected themselves into the country's bloodstream because they were the embodiment of what so many of us want to be and want our country to represent.

They were brave and talented. Dominant and heroic. Triumphant but gracious.

They were unafraid of the big moment. They thrived under the bright lights. They had the highest expectations and they did the unimaginable by exceeding them.

They are champions.

They are -- as Rapinoe called herself -- "uniquely American."

Pep Guardiola oddly defiant after Manchester City loss to Liverpool FC

Pep Guardiola oddly defiant after Manchester City loss to Liverpool FC

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola seemed primed to go off Sunday.

His squad lost 3-1 to English Premier League-leading Liverpool at Anfield, and the reigning champions fell behind early following a disputed decision.

Bernardo Silva's pass intended for Raheem Sterling in the box instead hit Liverpool right back Trent Alexander-Arnold's outstretched arm, leading to the Reds' counter-attack that Fabinho capitalized on with an outside-the-box screamer.

Guardiola took issue with the call, and another handball much later in the match. Both appeared to be on his mind when he, uh, passionately thanked the referees after the match.

But the Spaniard insisted during his post-match interview with Sky Sports that he was not being sarcastic with the officials.

"No way," Guardiola told Sky Sports. "I congratulated them. I'm so polite. I didn't say anything here [either]."

Indeed, in Guardiola's interview and post-match press conference with reporters, he didn't take the bait when asked about Alexander-Arnold's handball, which VAR subsequently upheld as not a foul on a check of the goal. Guardiola told Sky Sports to "ask the referees" about the decisions and instead focused on his own team's performance.

"We tried to do our job," Guardiola said. "I would like to talk about our performance, it was so good. So, I know when teams come here and the way they play [with respect for] Anfield, and from the opening, with the problems we have in the squad, the way we played was awesome. One of the best performances we have played. We played in the way, the reason we are back-to-back champions. That is the point.

"At the end, there's still seven months, and if Liverpool win, I will be the first to congratulate them because we cannot deny how good they are."

Guardiola's side trailed 2-0 at halftime, despite controlling possession and out-shooting Liverpool in the first half. But the Reds were clinical, scoring on each of their first two shots of the match. 

Liverpool's first-half performance reminded Guardiola of Manchester City's UEFA Champions League quarterfinal loss at Anfield two seasons ago, when the Cityzens dug a 3-0 first-half hole in the first leg at Anfield. Guardiola was happier with his squad Sunday, pointing to City's various injuries as Leroy Sané, Aymeric Laporte and Oleksandr Zinchenko all have missed significant time this season.

"What happened today, we showed why we are the champions," Guardiola said. "In this stadium, the way we played was incredible. So, I'm so proud of my team more than ever. [An] incredible performance in this stadium against the strongest team in Europe, and the way we played ... I am so proud. So proud. We played so good."

[RELATED: USMNT star Pulisic scores again for Chelsea but injures hip]

Perhaps Guardiola was just trying to be positive following some very visible outbursts, and the frustration stemming from both calls -- or, lack thereof, if you're a City supporter -- is understandable. But as strong as City looked, Guardiola's comments ring of moral victories and are oddly defeatist, especially considering where he and the club stand in global soccer's pecking order.

Guardiola arguably is the greatest club manager of all time, and oil money-backed City has the kind of financial might that only a handful of clubs in the world can match, let alone exceed. City trails Liverpool by nine points in the Premier League table, but don't mistake them for underdogs.

Watch Liverpool FC's Fabinho, Mo Salah score early vs. Manchester City

Watch Liverpool FC's Fabinho, Mo Salah score early vs. Manchester City

In the English Premier League's biggest match of the season to date, Liverpool FC got on the front foot early in a 3-1 win over Manchester City. 

The league leaders led 2-0 within the first 15 minutes Sunday at Anfield, thanks to Fabinho's sixth-minute screamer from outside the box and Mo Salah's 13th-minute header.  

Liverpool opened the scoring while Manchester City was slow to defend the Reds' counter-attack, disputing the referee's decision to not award a handball on Trent Alexander-Arnold. City controlled the early portions of the match, and Bernardo Silva's pass in the box hit Alexander-Arnold's outstretched arm with City attacker Raheem Sterling running in behind. 

The Premier League's rule changes reflecting the International Football Association Board's "Laws of the Game" this summer called for a foul when a player has made their body "unnaturally bigger," but the referee appeared to determine that Alexander-Arnold's outstretched arm was natural.

Alexander-Arnold surely earned himself additional ire from the City faithful with his wonderfully weighted pass on Liverpool's second goal. The right back switched the ball to left back Andy Robertson, whose subsequent cross to Salah left the ball on a platter for the Egyptian striker's run. 

[RELATED: Why Steve Kerr admires Jurgen Klopp's passion, joy]

Liverpool's offense runs through their flanks, as Alexander-Arnold and Robertson have been the Premier League's most productive passers this calendar year.

You'd have to go back to April 2017 to see the last time Liverpool lost at Anfield, and that streak continued Sunday. Sadio Mané put the game out of reach with a 51st-minute goal, but Liverpool's two quick goals ultimately proved to be too much for City.