Confident U.S. has gap to fill

MOENCHENGLADBACH, Germany — The Americans feel just fine, thank you, not tired a bit. The high from that epic Brazil game? That's so yesterday.

The U.S. women are one win from their first World Cup final since 1999 — the last time they won soccer's biggest prize — and the only thing on their minds now is beating France.

"Losing is not an option," U.S. striker and former Florida star Abby Wambach said Tuesday. "We want to win this thing, and France is standing in our way right now."

The Americans are ranked No. 1 and defending Olympic gold medalists but had to win home-and-home playoffs against Costa Rica and Italy just to get in. So before the World Cup, Germany and Brazil were considered much bigger favorites. But they're both gone, with Brazil losing Sunday to the Americans in a penalty shootout in one of the most exciting games at any World Cup, men's or women's.

No wonder the Americans go into today's semifinal with more than a touch of swagger.

"We have what it takes," said Wambach, whose header in the dying seconds of extra time forced penalty kicks Sunday. "It's just a matter of putting it all together."

The biggest uncertainty for the Americans is the backline. Rachel Buehler has started all but one game the past two years, and her bruising style — she is called the "Buehldozer" — has been vital. But she's suspended after getting a red card Sunday.

U.S. coach Pia Sundhage wouldn't say who will step in, but Becky Sauerbrunn, yet to play in this tournament, worked with the starters in training Tuesday.

"I've been fortunate enough to play with her (in Women's Professional Soccer), so we're very connected that way," said Christie Rampone, the U.S. captain and its other central defender. "Becky and I feel confident together."

They will have to because, much like Brazil, France has creativity and flair.

Playmaker Louisa Necib's touch and deft passes have been likened to former men's World Cup winner Zinedine Zidane, the highest compliment a French player can get. Les Bleues often appear seamless — 10 of the 21 players play for Lyon, the European club champions this year.

But France has struggled with bigger, more physical teams, and they don't come much stronger than the Americans.

"It's true we've had one additional day" of rest, French coach Bruno Bini said. "I think it's quite fair because the American team is in better shape."

The French also had an emotional doozy in the quarterfinals, beating England 4-3 on penalties Saturday after scoring in the 88th minute to tie it 1-1.

Women's World Cup

Quarterfinals Semifinal Championship Semifinal Quarterfinals
France 1 (4-3 PKs) Australia 1
France Sweden
Noon today; ESPN 2:45 p.m. today; ESPN
England 1 Sweden 3
2:45 p.m. Sunday; ESPN
U.S. 2 (5-3 PKs) Japan 1 (OT)
U.S. Third place: 11:30 a.m. Saturday; ESPN2 Japan
Brazil 2 Germany 0

Confident U.S. has gap to fill 07/13/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 13, 2011 8:49pm]

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