This time there was no dominance. No comfort. No cruise. The journey to the World Cup Final, however, never runs smoothly. You always need luck. And the US women's national team got some of it on Monday in Reims.
The Americans defeated Spain 2-1 with two goals from captain Megan Rapinoe. Both came from the penalty spot. And the second, a winner in the 76th minute, was anything but questionable.
Rose Lavelle went into the box with minimal contact. The referee pointed to the spot. And the way the USWNT finally points to a quarter-final with France.
But only after a lengthy VAR review and lots of controversy.
<p content = "The decision to uphold the reputation in the field was the right one There was no" clear and obvious "mistake because there was contact – from the Spanish defender to Lavelle's leg." Data-reactid = "28" type = "text"> The decision to keep the call on the field was the right one. There was no "clear and obvious" mistake. Because there was contact – by the Spanish defender to Lavelle's leg.
But the contact was low. It was not enough to make Lavelle fall like that. A certain embellishment made the referee whistle. Many other referees would have continued the game.
The US will not apologize. It should not. Winning a World Cup almost always means winning in different ways. Sometimes one of these ways is associated with a little luck.
Adopts Early Leadership
All early nerves were alleviated by a rogue attack in the United States. Abby Dahlkemper killed Spanish left-back Leila Ouahabi with a brilliant long ball. Tobin Heath ran for it. Her first touch led her into Ouahabi and into the box. A defending champion caught Heath's foot instead of the ball and conceded a penalty.
Rapinoe turned the ball from the spot:
It was a second goal in a row for the Americans, and their fourth in four games in 12 minutes. The natural expectation was that Monday would go the way of the other three and lead to a comfortable US victory.
But Spain – and the US rearguard – had other ideas.
Spain's goal was not the fault of a player.  Three minutes later, the quick start was reversed by misfortune. Spain swarmed out as the Americans tried to play from behind. Becky Sauerbrunn coughed the ball. Jenni Hermoso punished the sluggishness:
It was the first goal conceded by the United States in 649 minutes since the beginning of April. And it was not one player's fault, but several.
At first, the distance was not quite right. Playing from behind requires a sophisticated structure. It is an unnecessary risk to play against a center-back in this position and body shape. Sauerbrunn should record the ball with the entire field in the field of vision. Therefore, she should not even be where she was when the US has plans for a defensive building.
That is, Naeher – who was under no pressure – should not have played the ball.
And Sauerbrunn in the end had several delivery options. Julie Ertz was one. Right behind Kelley O'Hara was another. She did not decide either because she was not attentive. In the end she is more guilty than anyone else.
But as with any criticism of the shortcomings of USWNT in the first half of the year, Spain has earned recognition. Jennis finish was majestic. And the underdogs, who were under-challenged in the group stage, fiercely fought.
The US was superior, but not untouchable.
Never did the US look like the inferior team. It was dangerous in the first 45 minutes. Rose Lavelle was excellent, taking the Spanish midfielder apart and even racing past the opponents with the ball at her feet. She played a killer through ball to Rapinoe, whose shot was saved with the left foot at the near post.
Heath and Rapinoe both found out a lot. The latter arrived almost at the end of a cross from the former. Another Cross of Crystal Dunn scurried unaffected over the six-meter-high box. Ertz shot past the penalty area.
The US defense, however, seemed nervous. The expensive gaffe was not the only incident. Spain clearly felt the opportunity whenever the Americans were deeply in their own half possession.
And in the last third of the US … well, the striker was almost invisible. Alex Morgan just was not very involved. She did not look healthy. Could not combine with the wingers.
The penalties ended an attack that was not exactly clinical in front of the goal. That's going to change in four days.
The World Cup final, two laps earlier
And now on to France. Friday, July 28, Paris.
It's the showdown that all circled on the calendars after the draw in December. The matchup became even more enticing in January when USWNT hosts inflicted the only loss in the last 26 months.
The French have long been considered the main opponents on the throne – by the media, bookmakers, and even US players. The mind games started before the tournament.
"I think they are favorites, and I feel they are under pressure," Rapinoe Tage said before the kick-off of the World Cup.
And Lindsey Horan of USWNT media Two weeks earlier, "I think they have a bit of pressure on their backs when they play at home, and they've gotten so much better in the last few years, it's kind of a mentality thing for her."
Now the call will resume, then it will settle down and a football match worth the World Cup finals will begin. Tournament organizers and broadcasts want it to arrive nine days later. But the occasion will be great.
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<p content = " Henry Bushnell is a feature author for Yahoo Sports . Do you have a tip? Question? Comment? Send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell and on Facebook . "data-reactid =" 65 "type =" text "> Henry Bushnell is a feature Author for Yahoo Sports . Do you have a tip? Question? Comment? Send an e-mail to email@example.com or follow it on Twitter @HenryBushnell  and on Facebook .