A place in the World Cup final was at stake when the best two teams in the world met on Tuesday night. And for the first 45 minutes, the pace was unrelenting and frantic as both teams rushed up and down the pitch. But after a scoreless first half, the game was settled in the cruelest of ways in the final 45 minutes. The outcome ended up coming down to two penalty kicks and two decisions by the referee. All four — the two penalties and the two decisions — went in favor of the US.
And the US managed to topple Germany, 2-0. Now, the US is onto the World Cup final. On Sunday, the US will face either Japan -- which beat the US in the 2011 World Cup final -- or England.
Though the US was clearly the better side in the first 45 minutes of the game, it was unable to put one past goalkeeper Nadine Angerer, who denied a Julie Johnston header and an Alex Morgan breakthrough in the first half. And, despite taking it to Germany in the first half, the US was locked in a scoreless draw at halftime.
Then, came the first decision by the referee. In the 59th minute, US centerback Julie Johnston struggled with a bouncing ball in the box. A German player looked to capitlize on the mistake. Before she could, Johnston yanked her down from behind. The penalty call was an easy one, but instead of giving Johnston a red card, the referee opted for a yellow card.
Then, Celia Sasic shanked the penalty kick wide of the goal. Sasic, like the referee, gave the US -- and Johnston -- a huge break.
About 10 minutes later, the US was awarded a penalty kick after Alex Morgan was knocked to the ground at the edge of the box. While Morgan was undoubtedly fouled, she appeared to have been jarred outside the box. Still, the referee awarded the US with a penalty.
Carli Lloyd slotted the penalty past Angerer, giving the US a 1-0 lead in the 69th minute.
While those two decisions and those two penalties played a significant role in the final outcome, the US outplayed Germany for the full 90 minutes of the game and deserved to advance to the final. Not only did the US' offense take on the appearance of a menacing attack, but the US' defense -- the main reason why the US advanced to the semifinals -- also managed to shut down a German attack that had scored 20 goals in five games. Against the US, Germany had zero shots on goal.
And the US' defense was finally given some breathing room in the final minutes of the game when the US put away the dagger. In the 84th minute, Lloyd gathered the ball in the box. She beat her defender and dribbled toward the endline. At the last second, she sent a ball across the frame of the goal, where Kelley O'Hara met the cross with a volley that gave the US a 2-0 -- and an unsurpassable -- lead.
Like the US players, head coach Jill Ellis also deserves a wealth of credit for her willingness to change formations. Switching from the 4-4-2 to a 4-3-3, the US was suddenly creative and an offensive force. And you have to figure she sticks with the formation on Sunday, when the US has a chance to win the whole thing.
The good news for the US is that, for the first time all tournament, it looked like the best team in the world. And, now, the USWNT will only have to put together a similar performance in just one more game.