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Dublin: 6°C Sunday 28 February 2021

USA book World Cup final spot as 10-woman England denied by VAR and penalty miss

Steph Houghton missed a late spot-kick as the defending world champions ran out 2-1 winners in Lyon.

Alex Morgan scored the winner for the defending world champions.
Alex Morgan scored the winner for the defending world champions.
Image: Richard Sellers

ALEX MORGAN SCORED what proved to be the winning goal as holders the United States returned to the final of the women’s World Cup with a dramatic 2-1 win over England on Tuesday, but only after Lionesses captain Steph Houghton had a controversial late penalty saved.

On her 30th birthday, the US captain headed home just after the half-hour mark to put her team back in front after Ellen White had cancelled out Tobin Heath’s early opener.

But after an open first 45 minutes, the second half was dominated by more VAR controversy, with England having another White goal disallowed for the tightest of offside calls following a review by the Brazilian referee.

Phil Neville’s team later benefited from Edina Alves Batista’s decision to award them a spot-kick when Becky Sauerbrunn made the slightest of contact with White in the box, yet Houghton’s kick was stopped by Alyssa Naeher diving low to her right.

England finished with 10 players after Millie Bright was sent off for a second yellow card late on, and the USA held out, despite playing the whole match without Megan Rapinoe.

Scorer of all four US goals in the previous two rounds, the 33-year-old did not even warm up here, with belated reports emerging that she had a hamstring injury.

They will now go on to face Sweden or the Netherlands in Sunday’s final, as they aim to win the trophy for the fourth time in eight editions.

In contrast, it is another bitterly disappointing way for England to lose, as they go out of a third consecutive major tournament in the semi-finals. Their players cut dejected figures on the pitch at full-time.

Four years ago it was an injury-time own goal that cost them against Japan, and this time they are left wondering what might have been had Houghton converted a spot-kick which the Americans in any case may say should never have been awarded, so minimal was the contact on White as she failed to connect with a Demi Stokes centre.

Perhaps Nikita Parris should have been given the chance to make up for her penalty misses against Argentina and Norway earlier in the competition? Jill Ellis’s side will not be too worried about that, as fortune favoured them.

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That England could not take advantage of Rapinoe’s absence said everything about the strength in depth available to the USA, with the excellent Press taking her place.

There were surprises in the England team too, as goalkeeper Karen Bardsley dropped out due to a reported hamstring problem, with Carly Telford coming in.

It was the Americans, however, whose changes paid off as they came flying out of the blocks like they have in every match at this tournament.

They had scored no later than the 12th minute in all of their previous five matches, and here they required only 10 minutes to take the lead here, Heath finding Kelley O’Hara whose cross was headed in by Press at the far post.

England were stunned, but they were back level on 19 minutes as Mead’s pinpoint delivery picked out White and she steered the ball in off the frame of the goal for her sixth of the tournament.

Yet it was the holders who went back in front just after the half-hour, Morgan stealing in front of Stokes and heading home Horan’s delivery. She celebrated by miming sipping on a cup of tea.

As the USA tried to soak up pressure in the second half, England thought they were level on the 68th minute when Jill Scott’s flick picked out White to score, but VAR denied them the equaliser and her a seventh goal of the World Cup.

Yet even when VAR came to their rescue, England failed to capitalise, and Bright’s late sending-off for a second yellow card as she scythed down Morgan summed up their frustration.

© – AFP 2019

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