USA retain World Cup as Rapinoe, Lavelle sink Dutch

LYON (AFP) – The United States retained the women’s World Cup early yesterday as a Megan Rapinoe penalty and a Rose Lavelle strike gave the holders a 2-0 victory over the Netherlands in the final in Lyon, prompting new questions over a potential visit to Donald Trump’s White House.

Rapinoe stroked home from 12 yards to put the USA ahead just after the hour mark and end the tournament as joint top scorer on six goals after making headlines for stating she would boycott any team visit to the presidential mansion after the tournament.

Coach Jill Ellis remained coy on whether the team would carry out the visit if invited, saying that she “wouldn’t bet” on an invite coming.

However, the US President put their spat to one side to congratulate the team, tweeting, “Congratulations to the US Women’s Soccer Team on winning the World Cup! Great and exciting play. America is proud of you all!”

There was an air of inevitability about the 34-year-old, the star of this World Cup on and off the field, putting the USA ahead, and it also seemed inevitable that the breakthrough goal should come from a video assistant referee (VAR) -awarded penalty.

The whippet-like Lavelle, another stand-out performer over the last month, got the second in the 69th minute, killing off Dutch hopes of a comeback.

United States forward Megan Rapinoe poses with her Golden Boot and Golden Ball trophies. – AFP
United States players celebrate their victory in the Women’s World Cup final. – AP

The victory underlines the USA’s status as the dominant force in international women’s football as they claim the World Cup for the fourth time in eight editions.

“I don’t even have words, it’s crazy right now. Even just getting to another final, it’s so difficult,” said Rapinoe. “Hopefully we will continue to reign strong for a number of years.”

Rapinoe ends the tournament with the Golden Ball for the best player ahead of England’s Lucy Bronze and Lavelle, while also winning the Golden Boot as her six goals came from fewer minutes on the field than teammate Alex Morgan or England’s Ellen White.

It is a fitting personal triumph for Rapinoe, a key player in the squad’s battle for pay equality which led them to file a lawsuit against the US Soccer Federation accusing the organisation of gender discrimination.

“Everyone is kind of asking what’s next and what we want to come of all of this, and it’s to stop having the conversation about equal pay,” she said.

“What are we going to do about it? It’s time to sit down with everyone and get to work.”

The USA were already the first team to appear in three consecutive finals, and Ellis becomes the first coach to win back-to-back World Cups in the men’s or women’s game since Italy’s Vittorio Pozzo in the 1930s.

“Man that’s very impressive. She’ll thank us later,” said Rapinoe.

The USA had been the only non-European team to make the quarter-finals here, but they had already ended the hopes of the hosts and England before denying the Dutch a dream double, two years after they won Euro 2017.

“We would have loved to win this final, but we didn’t. Our opponent was better today,” said Netherlands coach Sarina Wiegman.

“So we’re second in the world, and I’m very proud of that and for the team and staff.”

Rapinoe was brought back into the USA line-up having sat out the victory over England in the last four due to a hamstring problem. She later went off to a loud ovation from the massed ranks of USA fans.

At a tournament which has showcased the improving standards of goalkeeping in women’s football, the excellent Dutch ‘keeper, Sari van Veenendaal, prevented the USA from winning by a greater margin.

The 29-year-old allowed her team to withstand an onslaught towards half-time, saving well from Julie Ertz and bettering that with two superb stops in quick succession in the 38th minute.

She kept out a Samantha Mewis header and turned the ball onto the post when Morgan diverted Rapinoe’s low centre towards goal. Morgan was thwarted again from range moments later.

The USA had scored no later than the 12th minute in all of their prior matches, but the Dutch, crucially, offered little going forward at the other end. Still, it was 61 minutes before the holders went ahead.

French referee Stephanie Frappart initially gave a corner when Stefanie van der Gragt challenged Morgan, but changed her mind after a VAR review. Rapinoe stroked in the penalty.

Eight minutes later, Lavelle set off on a piercing run towards the box, dropped her shoulder to set up the shooting opportunity, and fired in from 18 yards. The title was the USA’s again.