Football: US defeat Spain to reach women's World Cup quarter-finals

The United States' Megan Rapinoe (left) celebrates after scoring their second goal during the women's World Cup match against Spain in Reims, France, on June 24, 2019.
The United States' Megan Rapinoe (left) celebrates after scoring their second goal during the women's World Cup match against Spain in Reims, France, on June 24, 2019.PHOTO: REUTERS

REIMS, FRANCE (NYTIMES) - Megan Rapinoe scored penalty kicks in each half, and the United States overcame its toughest test yet at this year's World Cup, beating Spain, 2-1, on a scorching afternoon filled with rough fouls and tense moments.

The game was a physical, sweaty, back-and-forth affair in which Spain, a rising power in women's football appearing in the knockout stages for the first time, gave the United States, a three-time champion, fits with its physical play and surprised the Americans by producing more dangerous chances than the Americans saw in their previous three games combined. Spain also did something else no other team had done thus far in France against the Americans: It scored a goal. The problem was it needed two.

The Americans advanced to a highly anticipated quarterfinal against host France on Friday in Paris, but not before tempting fate - and elimination.

Rapinoe scored the opening goal in the seventh minute, driving a penalty kick low and hard to the left corner after Tobin Heath was tripped as she cut into the penalty area from the right wing. But Spain answered only two minutes later.

The Spanish chance came out of nothing: US goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher played a too-short ball out of the back to Becky Sauerbrunn, and Spain forward Lucia Garcia sensed an opening and sprinted forward, closing down Sauerbrunn. The ball kicked into the center, where Spain's Jenni Hermoso was standing alone. Controlling it and catching Naeher, trapped in no man's land, off her line, Hermoso drove an inch-perfect shot over her gloved hand and into the top right corner of the goal.

Stunned by allowing their first goal after scoring 19 without conceding in the group stage, the Americans went back to work and controlled possession for long stretches. But Spain's physical defense - Alex Morgan was a prime target, taking a beating all day - and opportunistic long balls created danger repeatedly. Sadly for Spain, its finishing did not match its endeavor.

As legs faded but the temperature did not, the game seemed destined for 20 more minutes of caution and then extra time when Rose Lavelle converged with Morgan chasing a loose ball at the top of Spain's penalty area in the 71st minute. Lavelle got to the ball first, and just as she tipped it ahead, Spain's Virginia Torrecilla stuck out a foot that caught Lavelle in midair. The midfielder went down, and the game's Hungarian referee, Katalin Kulcsar, pointed immediately for a penalty.

 
 

Spain's players tried to stall, knocking the ball off the penalty spot and hoping for a video review. But the review, when it came, merely confirmed the original decision. Rapinoe calmly stepped up and, in the 75th minute, stroked another low shot into the left corner.

Spain tossed a few more punches, and Naeher - rallying to save the day after her error had imperiled it - blunted any last gasps.