(AFP) – The United States retained the women’s World Cup on Sunday 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, and American fans greeted the victory with chants calling for equal pay.
Having been kept at bay by Dutch goalkeeper Sari van Veenendaal throughout the first half, the USA finally went ahead just after the hour as Rapinoe stroked home from 12 yards to end the tournament as joint top scorer on six goals.
There was an air of inevitability about the pink-haired 34-year-old, the star of this World Cup on and off the field, putting the USA ahead.
It also seemed inevitable that the breakthrough goal here should come from a VAR-awarded penalty, with French referee Stephanie Frappart initially giving a corner before pointing to the spot following a review.
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.
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.”
She ended 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.
– Ellis makes history –
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 Jill 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 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 success, 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 starting 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.
– Goalkeeping heroics in vain –
At a tournament which has showcased the improving standards of goalkeeping in women’s football, the excellent 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 by producing two superb stops in quick succession in the 38th minute.
She kept out a Samantha Mewis header and then turned the ball onto the post when Morgan diverted Rapinoe’s low centre towards goal. Morgan was thwarted again from range moments later, and the European champions held out until the interval.
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.
The referee gave a corner when Stefanie van der Gragt challenged Morgan, but changed her mind upon seeing the images. Rapinoe stroked in the first penalty scored in a women’s World Cup final.
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 low from 18 yards. The title was the USA’s again.