Coach Jill Ellis has been the subject of second-guessing about the United States lineup. But nearly every combination she comes up with seems to work out, partly because of a high margin for error, since the US has enough quality players to field two Women’s World Cup-level teams.
But Ellis must be doing enough things right, since the US has compiled a 36-1-5 record since July 27, 2017.
The one loss was a 3-1 decision to France, the opponent Friday in the quarterfinals of the WWC. Since that game, Ellis has fine-tuned the team. The defeat against France would be the last match for left back Emily Fox, who plays at the University of North Carolina, the position now filled by Crystal Dunn. Though Dunn is playing out of position, her athleticism and combativeness, plus experience as an attacking player, allows her to contend with the best wingers.
Meanwhile, France coach Corinne Diacre also has made adjustments, but there are questions about the effectiveness of the changes. When the French defeated the Americans, Kadidiatou Diani scored twice, playing as a center forward. Diani’s Paris Saint-Germain teammate, Marie-Antoinette Katoto, entered as a second-half substitute and converted the third goal. In the WWC, though, Diani has been performing on the right wing and Katoto, 20, was not chosen for the squad, despite scoring a Division 1 Féminine-leading 22 goals.
France has not seemed in danger of losing, so far, thanks to solid defending and set piece production. But Les Bleues do not seem to be clicking offensively, having scored only four goals in the run of play, Diani yet to get on the scoreboard.
The winner will meet England in Lyon Tuesday. Jill Scott, Ellen White, and Lucy Bronze scored as the Three Lionesses took a 3-0 win over Norway Thursday in Le Havre.
■ Norway struggled to contain England on the wings, Nikita Parris on the right, Toni Duggan on the left. The first two goals resulted from Bronze-Parris combinations. Norway coach Martin Sjogren countered by switching wingers Guro Reiten and Karina Saevik, but the move did not pan out. If the change was made for defensive purposes, it failed. Plus, it seemed to defuse the Norwegians’ best weapon – Saevik combining with Caroline Graham-Hansen.
■ Duggan’s timing seemed off, and England coach Phil Neville replaced her with Beth Mead in the 54th minute. England simply focused its defense on Graham-Hansen and Isabell Herlovsen, and Norway’s bench could not make a difference.
■ Mexican referee Lucila Venegas Montes missed a few out-of-bounds calls, then awarded a questionable free kick to England after a long run by Bronze. That led to Bronze’s goal, a roofed blast from outside the penalty area off a Mead square ball. The move caught the Norwegians flat-footed, despite having seen England attempt a similar play off a free kick minutes earlier.
■ Italy vs. Netherlands, Stade du Hainaut, Valenciennes. This will be a rematch of a playoff series for the 2015 WWC qualifying, won by the Dutch. Both teams have received key contributions from the bench. Italy’s Aurora Galli has scored three times and Netherlands’ Lineth Beerensteyn and Jill Roord have converted deciding goals.
■ Germany vs. Sweden, Roazhon Park, Rennes. Germany usually defeats the Swedes when it counts – the 2003 WWC final in Carson, Calif., the second round of the 2015 WWC, the 2016 Olympic final. Coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg has to decide whether to ease back Dzsenifer Marozsán, recovering from a broken toe.