By the skin of their teeth, the United States Women's National Team advanced to the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup quarterfinals Monday.
The United States beat Spain 2-1 in Reims, France, thanks to two penalty kicks from captain Megan Rapinoe to set up a match with the host nation Friday.
Rapinoe stepped up to the spot and gave the Americans a lead in the seventh minute, but Jennifer Hermoso equalized two minutes later when she caught goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher off her line. The Spaniards' press picked veteran American defender Becky Sauerbrunn's pocket, and the USWNT conceded its first goal of the tournament.
Midfielder Rose Lavelle was fouled in Spain's box late in the second half to set up Rapinoe's second penalty, before the three most-dreaded letters of the tournament appeared. The referee turned to VAR -- video assistant referee -- to determine if there was a "clear and obvious error," but the call was upheld. There wasn't much contact on Lavelle, but it was enough for the referee to point to the spot again.
Rapinoe's finish left no doubt, even as the Americans absorbed late pressure from the Spaniards, who hoped to keep their World Cup dreams alive. The USWNT advanced, but the win raised far more questions than answers.
Coach Jill Ellis opted to sit Lindsey Horan, with the midfielder facing a suspension if she picked up another yellow card. Ellis' squad failed to generate much of anything moving forward, but she did not make her first change to the lineup until the 85th minute. The USWNT attempted fewer shots on target (three) than any game in the tournament, and there wasn't all that much in the way of quality, either.
xG map for USA - Spain— Caley Graphics (@Caley_graphics) June 24, 2019
after some good early pressure for 20 minutes the US just lost any capacity to break down a tenacious Spain, but the US back line cleaned up everything that came its way after an early error too pic.twitter.com/9kT6v3Q62u
Monday's win won't settle concerns about the USWNT headed into Friday's showdown with France in Paris. Although the French needed extra time to dispatch Brazil on Sunday, they already have beaten the Americans this year. France defeated the USWNT 3-1 in a January friendly, and jumped out to a three-goal lead in that match.
The Americans won't enter the rematch on a high, but Ellis said she believed that could work to her team's advantage -- using some NSFW language.
Ellis asked about sloppiness of game. "I think it’s energized our players. I'm a glass half-full person and I think, `Holy shit that was awesome.'"— Nancy Armour (@nrarmour) June 24, 2019
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Ellis has to hope it does. In any other World Cup, Friday's match would be worthy of a final. The USWNT and France entered as two of the favorites, but one's tournament will be over before the semifinals by the time Friday's last whistle blows.
If the Americans don't improve upon Monday's performance, it very well could be them.