LYON, France — With Alex Morgan’s cheeky tea-sipping celebration and a postgame mobbing of goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher, the United States has moved a step closer to successfully defending its latest Women’s World Cup title.
Morgan scored the go-ahead goal and Naeher preserved the 2-1 semifinal victory over England by smothering a late penalty kick Tuesday night.
The top-ranked United States will now face the winner of Wednesday’s semifinal between the Netherlands and Sweden in the Americans’ third straight appearance in the World Cup title match.
Christen Press — who started with Megan Rapinoe out with a hamstring injury — put the United States up early but Ellen White’s goal tied it before 20 minutes had passed. Morgan’s sixth goal of the tournament came before the break, and on her 30th birthday. She hadn’t had a goal since she scored five in the team’s 13-0 rout of Thailand to open the tournament.
After her goal, Morgan pantomimed a sip of tea on the field.
“I feel like this team just has had so much thrown at us, and I felt that we didn’t take the easy route to the final this tournament, and that’s the tea,” she said.
White’s goal was also her sixth but Morgan has the edge for the tournament’s Golden Boot with three assists. White appeared to score her seventh in the 69th minute but video review determined she was offside — and the Americans in the crowd of 53,512 at Stade de Lyon roared.
Another video review went against the United States late in the game when it determined Becky Sauerbrunn had fouled White in the penalty area. England captain Steph Houghton’s penalty shot was stopped by a diving Naeher in the 84th minute.
It was the first penalty kick saved by a U.S. goalkeeper in regular time at the World Cup. At the final whistle, the team mobbed Naeher in front of the goal in celebration. Rapinoe gave her a bear hug.
The mild-mannered goalkeeper was asked afterward if it was the biggest save of her life. “Probably up there, yeah,” she said smiling.
“It’s a special team and everybody fought hard tonight for all 90 minutes. Players on the field, players on the bench, ready to come in and make differences,” Naeher said. “Obviously Christen coming in and starting tonight and scoring a great goal was huge for us. And I think it’s just a testament to the team.”
The Americans have been to the semifinals of all eight World Cups, and they’ve won the trophy three times, more than any nation. The U.S. team’s lone loss in a World Cup title match came to Japan in 2011.
Third-ranked England went through to the semifinals in 2015 but fell to Japan before beating Germany in the third-place match for the Lionesses’ best finish in the tournament.
“No words that I can say tonight will make them feel any better,” said England coach Phil Neville.
England will play in the third-place match on Saturday in Nice against the loser of the other semifinal. Moments after Tuesday’s loss, Neville was already looking ahead — even to next year.
“My first thought was, ‘How do we win on Saturday,’ and my second thought was, ‘How do we win the Olympics?'” he said.
The United States has won 11 straight World Cup matches and is undefeated in its last 16. With the quarterfinal victory in France, the Americans tied Norway’s record winning streak set over the 1995 and 1999 tournaments.
The Americans have exuded confidence since arriving in France. After pouncing on Thailand 13-0 in the opener and celebrating each goal in the rout, they beat nemesis Sweden, the team that ousted the United States in the quarterfinals at the 2016 Olympics. And Rapinoe struck a victorious pose in a 2-1 quarterfinal victory over France on Friday night in Paris.
Rapinoe suffered a minor hamstring injury late in the second half against France, which she said she didn’t expect would keep her out of the final. Coach Jill Ellis said there was an outside chance that she could have taken a penalty if the match against England had come to that.
England started Carly Telford in goal instead of Karen Bardsley, who was out with a hamstring injury. Bardsley had shutouts in both of the team’s knockout round matches. Telford started in the team’s group stage match against Argentina.
England had shut out its last four opponents but the United States attacked early as expected — the Americans have scored within the first 15 minutes of all of their games in France.
Press delivered first, scoring on a header off a long cross from Kelley O’Hara that sailed over Telford’s outstretched arm. It was Press’ first goal in France, and her second World Cup goal overall.
Shortly thereafter, Beth Mead served the ball to White, who got between the U.S. center backs for the finish to pull England even. White raised her hands to her face for her customary “glasses” celebration.
The United States pulled ahead when Lindsey Horan found Morgan in front of the net for the header. It was Morgan’s 107th international goal, moving her into a tie for fifth on the U.S. career list with Michelle Akers.
“We had to make changes this game, but we have such a deep team and we have people who are able to get the job done, no matter what,” O’Hara said. “That’s one of the coolest parts about this team. We really do top to bottom have such a strong team.”