REIMS, France (Reuters) - The United States may be one of the superpowers of women’s soccer but they needed to draw on all their experience to get past Spain on Monday and set up a quarter-final clash with hosts France.
The Americans needed two penalties as they labored against a Spain team that often played the more attractive football and captain Megan Rapinoe, whose two penalties settled the outcome, said they had stuck with the basics.
“(It was about) grit and experience in this game. In the knockout round the games are more intense. It was important to stay in it,” she said.
“Just to stay it in, keep grinding, keep compact knowing that they are quite good on the ball. It was about keeping ourselves together and taking the chances that presented themselves,” she added.
Coach Jill Ellis agreed that in the heat and under pressure, her team had shown those longstanding qualities that have brought so much success for the three-times World Cup winners.
“It was a lot of grit, a lot of resolve, that mental piece,” she said.
“You can have all the tactics in the world but that essence of self-belief, that is critical and these players have that and so they want these moments and embrace them,” she said.
Ellis conceded that her side had not been at their best when going forward.
“Spain wanted to mix it up, at times our movement could have been better but it’s part of this level in terms of the intensity and physicality,” she said.
“We knew we could be a little sharper in the final passes, but Spain are a very good team and you look at their previous games, as I have, they have dominated all of their opponents. It was good... It has energized the team – it depends if you are a glass half empty or glass half full person and I am like ‘holy shit that was awesome’.
Some poor defending and positioning from goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher had allowed Spain to draw level in the ninth minute but Ellis said her team had shown maturity not let that impact their approach.
“It speaks to the mental capacity of this team, they parked it and moved on. I felt we were going to win this game with some of the things we were doing with ball movement and possession,” she said.
Rapinoe said she was relishing the prospect of facing the hosts in Paris on Thursday.
“I think this is the game that everyone circled. I think it is going to be a great match, I hope it is going to be wild and crazy, hope the fans are crazy and there will be tons of media and that it will be a big spectacle.
“It’s incredible for the women’s game – two heavy hitters meeting, it’s everything you want,” she said.
Reporting by Simon Evans, editing by Pritha Sarkar