Controversial calls overshadow U.S. semifinal win


United States’ Alex Morgan (13) tries to place the ball past Germany goalkeeper Nadine Angerer during first half. (Graham Hughes/CP)

MONTREAL—As the big games often go, Tuesday’s Women’s World Cup semifinal between Germany and the United States was decided on a few details. Unfortunately, on this occasion, those details happened to be referee decisions.

With the game tied 0-0, Germany was correctly awarded a penalty kick in the second half, but U.S. defender Julie Johnston should have been sent off for denying a clear goal scoring opportunity, and was only given a yellow card. Of course, striker Celia Sasic didn’t help her team’s cause as she missed the ensuing penalty kick, which is something of a very rare sight for the German national team, who are famous for stepping up in these big moments.

A few minutes later, the U.S. received a second massive call in its favour, as the Romanian referee Teodora Albon awarded a penalty kick for a foul on U.S. forward Alex Morgan that clearly took place just outside of the German penalty area.

Veteran midfielder Carli Lloyd, who was excellent on the night in a more advanced position behind Morgan, made no mistake and the U.S. went on to win the game 2-0, progressing to Sunday’s final in Vancouver.

German coach Silvia Neid tried her best not to make too much of a fuss over the calls in the post-match press conference, but was visibly disheartened by them.

“(The foul) was clearly outside the goal area and it can be seen quite clearly on the television,” Neid said.

“Of course I am very sad about the (decision) to give this penalty shot which decided the match, but what am I going to do? A referee decision is something we have to live with, I am very sad about it.”

On whether a red card should have been issued to Johnston, Neid simply said: “those are the rules.”

It was a bitter pill to swallow for Germany, and that the referee should have so much say on the outcome of a semifinal made for a less engrossing game than it could have been, but ultimately the U.S. was the better side on the night and deserved what they got.

“(A referee decision) is not something I usually comment or criticize, but you know what I also thought that … we were a very good team,” U.S. coach Jill Ellis said.

There’s no question that the strong point of this American team is its defence. Against Germany it managed its fifth clean sheet of the tournament. In six games, it’s only conceded one goal.

Neid admitted to Germany’s paucity of scoring opportunities—the penalty kick was really all it had—and even when her side did play with a high line and managed to recover the ball in advanced positions, the German front four never really looked threatening.

“Unfortunately we did not follow through, we weren’t dangerous enough when it came to the goal area,” Neid admitted.

Ellis dubbed her team’s defensive stats as “incredible” and attributed her team’s record to its ability and desire to defend well as a unit.

“It’s not just our goalkeeper and our back four, this team has embraced the accountability, the responsibility for defending in every line,” Ellis explained.

“It’s something we ask of them and they deliver. They understand it’s important. We got gritty players in the back, we have sophisticated players in the back, and they just do a great job of reading the game and shutting down the opponent.”

As much as the Americans were tough to break down at the back, they also showed more thrust and cunning in the attack. Playing alongside Lloyd up front, Morgan was very active throughout the game and before winning the penalty shot with a strong run towards goal, she came close to scoring on a few occasions in the first half. Also, Megan Rapinoe demonstrated her ability in 1v1 situations on the left-hand side of midfield.

The U.S. was full value for the win, and appears to possess all the ingredients to win a record third World Cup title on Sunday.

“We didn’t come here to just make the final,” Lloyd said. “We came here to win it.”

As for Germany, Neid hopes to be able to finish the tournament on a positive note by winning the third place game on Saturday in Edmonton.

“We want this nice conclusion to the tournament,” she said. “Today it wasn’t enough, but we are among the best four teams in the tournament, and winning depends on many factors, on penalties, taking chances, different things, but my team gave it all today, and in the end it wasn’t enough.”

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