The biggest and most-watched women’s World Cup came to its conclusion at Lyon on Sunday when USA and Holland contested the eighth final. It was to be the first time in a men’s or women’s World Cup that the current world champions and European champions had contested the final and the first time both finalists were managed by women in Jill Ellis and Sarina Wiegman respectively.
British interest was supplied by Irish women Michelle O’ Neill from Wexford who was selected as one of the assistant referees.
Megan Rapinoe returned to the USA team after missing the semi-final through injury becoming only the second player after Germany’s Birgit Prinz (1995, 2003 and 2007) to start three women’s World Cup finals and Lieke Martens played despite a reoccurrence of her toe injury.
The game began in front of a 57,900 sell-out crowd consisting of a large contingent of USA fans & a host of dignitaries including the head of FIFA Giani Infantino & the President of the Netherlands.
The USA were the favourites and started the brighter. Rapinoe and Crystal Dunn combining well on the left, Sam Mewis tried her luck with a long shot that was well caught by Sari van Veenendaal in the dutch goal.
Holland’s record goalscorer Vivienne Miedema was trying her best to give the underdogs the lead with some neat play. Just after the half-hour mark, the USA started to up there game but were met by a string of Brilliant saves by van Veenendaal.
Holland finished the half strongly with some chances of there own as Martens was clipped by Dahlkemper to earn the American defender a yellow card.
In first-half injury time there was a horrific clash of heads between Martens and O’Hara, both players got up eventually but the American full-back was replaced by Ali Krieger at half time.
The USA started the half on top passing the ball crisply and searching for opportunities to take the lead and Dunn sent an excellent shot just over the bar.
There was another clash of heads this time involving van de Donk and Becky Sauerbrunn with the latter needing attention for a cut to the head and momentarily leaving the pitch. She returned wearing a bandage Terry Butcher ‘Italia 90’ style.
The game was turned on its head on the hour mark when VAR awarded a penalty on a foul on Morgan by Stefanie van der Gragt that was initially missed by French referee Stephanie Frappart. This was a perfect example of how technology should be used. Rapinoe duly took the spot-kick and drilled it down the middle to give the USA a deserved 1-0 lead.
Rapinoe became the first player to score a Penalty at a women’s World Cup final and at 34 years and 2 days old she is the oldest to score in a final.
Miedema tried to get Holland back into the game with a mazy run through the American defence but was eventually stopped by Julie Ertz.
On 69 minutes one of the best young players to come out of this tournament Rose Lavelle who attributes much of her early success to her late British coach Neil Bradford went on a superb run and unleashed a terrific shot into the net to double USA’s lead.
Tobin Heath another who had a superb tournament displayed her trickery on the right-wing & had a great shot of her own and Van Veenendaal made another superb save this time off Dunn.
The Dutch were still hoping for a miracle going into the final 10 mins as Beerensteyn took an excellent shot that was well caught by Naeher in the USA goal and a Spitske free kick that just went wide.
Ellis made a poignant change late on taking off Heath bringing on USA’s 2015 world cup final hat-trick hero Carli Lloyd for her 281st and probably final cap.
As the ref blew the final whistle on this memorable tournament there were delirious scenes from USA players and fans alike led by Golden Boot and Golden Ball winner Megan Rapinoe who had made this tournament her own. As she held aloft the trophy as the USA became only the second team behind Germany in 2007 to successfully defend the competition.
The big question remains not only how will whoever is hosting the 2023 competition top this but who can stop this American juggernaut who not only scored a record 26 goals at this tournament but the final was there twelfth successive victory the longest run for any team at a men’s or women’s world cup finals.
USA: Naeher, Dunn, Sauerbrunn, Dahlkemper, O’Hara, Mewis, Ertz, Lavelle, Rapinoe, Morgan, Heath
Netherlands: Van Veenedaal, Bloodworth, Dekker, Van der Gragt, van Lunteren. Spitse, Van de Donk, Groenen, Martens, Miedema, Beerensteyn