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United States faces France in World Cup semifinal

Wed., July 13, 2011

MOENCHENGLAD- BACH, Germany – The Americans feel just fine, thank you, not tired a bit. The high they were on after that epic Brazil game? That’s so yesterday.

The U.S. women are one game away from reaching 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,” Abby Wambach said Tuesday. “We want to win this thing, and France is standing in our way right now.”

The Americans are the top-ranked team in the world and defending Olympic gold medalists, yet they were almost afterthoughts when the tournament began two weeks ago. Two-time defending champion Germany was considered the heavy favorite, sure to get a boost playing on home soil. Then there was Brazil, runner-up at the last three major tournaments and led by Marta, FIFA’s player of the year five years running.

And the U.S.? It had to win a playoff with Italy just to get here, and the team had been uncharacteristically inconsistent with three losses in a five-month span.

But the Germans are now spectators, stunned by Japan in the quarterfinals. Brazil is gone, too, losing to the Americans in a penalty shootout in one of the most exciting games at the World Cup, men’s or women’s. And the Americans? They’re still playing, and they go into tonight’s semifinal with more than a touch of swagger.

“We have what it takes,” Wambach said. “It’s just a matter of putting it all together.”

France will bring creativity and flair into the match.

Playmaker Louisa Necib, she of the silken touch and deft passes, has been likened to Zinedine Zidane, the highest compliment a French player can get. Her control of the midfield is masterful.

“For us, it’s very important to be patient,” U.S. coach Pia Sundhage said. “We need to pick up the rhythm and dictate the tempo.”

France has struggled against bigger, physical teams in the past, and they don’t come much stronger than the U.S.

“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.”

While the U.S. has its quickest turnaround of the tournament, getting just two days’ rest between games, France hasn’t played since Saturday. But Les Bleues had an emotional doozy, too, beating England 4-3 on penalties after scoring in the 88th minute to tie it 1-1.

France has never been to the World Cup semifinals and it has never beaten the Americans, going 0-11-1 in previous meetings.

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