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Women's World Cup: US can't afford a letdown against surging England

Kevin Baxter, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Soccer

LYON, France -- Christen Press has a theory as to why the U.S. women's national team has been so successful.

"The team rises to the occasion," she said Monday. "Throughout the history -- watching the team, being on the team, playing for the team -- we've done a great job at flipping pressure and making it inspiration, making it motivation.

"When the stakes are the highest, when the games and the tournaments are the biggest, you have to find another level in yourself to win. And if you don't find it, you don't win."

In that case Press and her teammates might have to push all the way through the penthouse Tuesday when they meet England in a Women's World Cup semifinal, where the stakes will definitely be high and the opponent the most determined they've faced in this tournament.

"It's win or go home at this point," goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher said.

First the U.S. must regroup. After cruising through a three-game group stage in which they set a World Cup record with an 18-0 goal differential, the Americans gutted out a pair of 2-1 victories in their first two games of the elimination rounds.

 

Coach Jill Ellis called the last one, an emotional win against the host French in Paris, "the most intense match I've ever been a part of."

The U.S. players have said there's no chance of a letdown Tuesday although they admitted last week's quarterfinal against France, one they had mentally prepared for all year, felt like a final.

England appears headed in the other direction. Unimpressive in their first two games of group play, the Lionesses have taken off since then, shutting out Japan -- a finalist in the last two Women's World Cups -- then eliminating Cameroon and Norway by identical 3-0 scores in the knockout stage, going 371 minutes without conceding a goal.

Statistically it's a dead heat: The U.S. is ranked No. 1 in the world, England is No. 3. The two teams are unbeaten in this tournament and rank 1-2 in goals scored and fewest goals allowed. The U.S. has scored in the opening 12 minutes of each of its five games; England has scored in the first 14 minutes four times.

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