Attacking wins matches, defending wins trophies. While this sage advice is nothing new in football, it is becoming increasingly applicable to the USA’s current FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015™ campaign. The Stars and Stripes kept another clean sheet in their quarter-final against China PR to seal their place in the last four, prompting Becky Sauerbrunn to quote this same saying in an interview with *FIFA.com *after the match.
“Although offensive play is important, it’s defending that gets you titles. Even when matches don’t work out the way you planned, you’ve always got to stay strong in defence; it’s a matter of willpower and intelligence,” the central defender said succinctly. The team managed this almost perfectly against their Asian opponents, allowing them just two shots on goal. “We won the ball early so they always had a long way to go to get forward,” the American centre-half reflected.
This successful performance means that Sauerbrunn and her team-mates have now gone 423 minutes without conceding a goal, with Hope Solo only having to pick the ball out of the net in the first group match against Australia. No US women’s team has ever managed such a feat at the Women’s World Cup, with only Germany (679 minutes from 2003 until 2011) and today’s opponents from China PR (442 minutes from 1999 to 2003) guarding their goal for longer. “We’re very proud of that, and of course it’s something we defenders can be particularly happy with,” said the 30-year-old, who has so far played every single minute of her side’s campaign in Canada.
Despite her pride at the back line’s efforts, Sauerbrunn is quick to credit the entire team with this achievement. The USA delivered yet another solid collective performance, refusing to allow the Steel Roses into the match despite the pressure they exerted from the start. The Americans stayed tight in every area of the pitch and worked together seamlessly, making it almost impossible for the Chinese to find the gaps.
Stemming the tide
The fact that the Stars and Stripes were able to do this against China PR of all teams was something special for Sauerbrunn. As a 14-year-old, she watched the two sides face each other in the 1999 final on television, an experience that inspired her to play for her country and meant that this year’s quarter-final was something of a dream come true for the Kansas City defender. “Today I was able to play against China too, and we won. That’s incredible,” she said, eyes shining with pride.
As Sauerbrunn spoke, the catacombs of Ottawa’s Lansdowne Stadium were busy with people packing up, as this was the last time the Canadian capital will host a match at the World Cup. The Americans must now travel to Montreal for their semi-final showdown with Germany.
Their European opponents have been the tournament’s highest-scoring side so far, firing the ball home 20 times already, while strikers Celia Sasic and Anja Mittag head the goalscorers’ list with six and five strikes respectively. Will the USA be able to keep another clean sheet in the face of such formidable firepower? “That’s obviously the plan,” the St Louis native responded, “but I’m not a prophet so I can’t make any predictions. They’re a great team; we’ll give it our best and can’t wait to get started,” she added.
Although there was still time to revel in today’s result before turning to the next challenge, Sauerbrunn is already excited to see what plan the coaching team will unveil for their last four encounter. Whatever their decision, the key to success and another appearance in the final – as in Germany four years ago – will be the American back line. “If they don’t score, we can’t lose,” she said.
If the USA indeed manage to keep Germany at bay, the wisdom of that old footballing adage will be proven once more. And while still reluctant to look too far ahead, Sauerbrunn already has a great idea about what could happen if they win the title. “I want to go to Las Vegas with the team and really celebrate,” she laughed, before disappearing onto the bus.