Confident U.S. women’s team set to meet upstart Spain in World Cup
REIMS, France — Spain coach Jorge Vilda says part of the challenge in facing the United States is making sure his players aren’t intimidated by the defending Women’s World Cup champions.
Spain faces the top-ranked U.S. team Monday in Reims, marking the first time La Roja will appear in the knockout round at the World Cup.
“We need to ensure that it doesn’t get in our head. We’ve had the right level of competition, and we hope that tomorrow that we can put our best foot forward,” Vilda said Sunday through a translator. “When the girls look at the players in front of them, they are not going to see stars. They are going to see a team like any other. They are a good team, but we are also a team that has been known to be up to scratch and shown what we can do on the pitch.”
It’s going to be hard not to see those stars when facing a front line that includes Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe and Tobin Heath.
The United States skated through its group with a stage record 18 goals. And the team didn’t concede a goal in the group for the first time at a World Cup.
The three-time World Cup winners are brimming with confidence.
“I think this is the best team we’ve had,” Ali Krieger said. “We’re so confident right now. We’re so motivated to want to win and succeed.”
The teams met in January in Alicante, part of a European trip for the United States. Christen Press scored the lone goal in a 1-0 victory, and the Americans rebounded from a 3-1 loss to France in Le Havre a few days before.
The match might have been a confidence boost for No. 13 Spain, because it was able to hang with the world’s top-ranked team.
Coach Jill Ellis said she believed that friendly was critical to the Americans’ preparation, but both teams have evolved since.
“I actually pushed for that game because I think it was important for us. You have to take the approach that if it’s a method where you’re learning, you’re growing and you’re getting better, you can’t worry about what your opponent takes away from a game,” she said.
Ellis said Julie Ertz and Morgan were “fine” but didn’t elaborate. Ertz missed the team’s final group-stage match, a 2-0 victory over Sweden, because of a hip contusion. Morgan did not play in the second half because of a couple of hard collisions in the first.
Spain, playing in its second World Cup but making its first appearance in the knockout round, finished second to Germany in its group to draw the United States.
Spain has been on the rise since Vilda took over after the 2015 World Cup. The team won the 2017 Algarve Cup and last year won the Cyprus Cup, while also finishing in the final eight of the UEFA Women’s Euro.
Defender Irene Paredes was asked if Spain’s players believe they have a chance.
“That’s pretty basic,” she said. “That’s the first thing you have to achieve, that we ourselves think that we can win, right?”
The winner Monday will play fourth-ranked France, which defeated Brazil, 2-1, on Sunday.