More Than Goals:From Backyard Games to World Cup Competition

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It tends to be that around one in three goals in modern football comes from a set-piece, but the World Cup has featured far, far more. More penalties are being awarded because referees are clamping down on almost any little push, pull, trip or tangle in the box, knowing that if replays show a foul of any type they will be backed and if they are wrong their decision will simply be overturned.

M eanwhile, sitting back and defending very deep has been a theme of this World Cup among the more limited teams, meaning chances in open play are harder to come by.

Emelyne Laurent

Every opportunity to make the most of set-pieces has to be taken, and teams have gone to great lengths to innovate at set-pieces, perhaps more than normal. The presence of VAR may also have encouraged teams to do so. That may have been behind Gareth Southgate's decision to take inspiration from other sports to come up with new ideas for creating space at set-pieces. Against teams like Brazil and France where opportunities may be more difficult to come by, making the most of set-pieces is vital.

England have been extremely successful at set-pieces so far, with three-quarters of their goals coming from dead ball situations. She beat a defender before uncorking a low drive from 24 yards out that skipped under the goalkeeper and stuck into the left corner of the net for her first World Cup goal. The ball ricocheted off Samantha Mewis near the left post and bounced kindly to Horan who belted a shot into the roof of the net for her first World Cup goal.

She turned toward goal and put a shot on frame that was deflected by a defender, wrong-footing the goalkeeper on its way into the left side of the net.

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The ball looped across the goal mouth to the back post where an unmarked Morgan volleyed it into the center of the net from close range with the outside of her right boot. USA — Samantha Mewis, 54th minute: Crystal Dunn beat a defender one-on-one to the left end line and cut a low across to the top of the penalty area where Lavelle had a free shot that was blocked. The deflection spun directly to Mewis at the right post and she redirected it into the goal from six yards out for her second of the game.


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Lavelle drove a low left-footed shot into the center of the goal. Press took a touch and let the crisscrossing runs of Lloyd and Morgan unfold before picking out Morgan near the penalty arc. Morgan took her defender to the left before pulling the ball back with her right foot to open up space for a snap shot across goal into the far-left side netting. Pugh played in an early cross on the ground that was just out of reach for Morgan but rolled perfectly for the unmarked Rapinoe who was crashing the goal.

From the penalty spot, Rapinoe hit a low, first-time drive into the center of the net. She regained her balanced and stormed into the penalty area, drawing the Thailand defense before sliding a pass to an unmarked Morgan near the top of the box.

Morgan needed only a quick settling touch to tee up a well-placed shot into the left side of the goal from 16 yards out. USA — Alex Morgan Crystal Dunn , 87th minute: Dunn once again initiated the attacking sequence, chipping a pass to Morgan outside the left side of the area. So if the final turned out to be less the glorious party of four years ago than a hard day's work? And whether it was injury or form or anything -- coach's decision -- you just kind of had to ride that roller coaster. So to make this team and then to win this tournament is a testament to all those paths and all those journeys to get to this moment.

All of that while lending their voice to issues they believe more important than soccer, the chants from large swaths of fans after Sunday's win shifting from "U-S-A" to "Equal pay. The biggest question going into the final was the health of two stars, after Rapinoe missed the semifinal with a hamstring injury and Martens left at halftime of Netherlands' semifinal with a foot injury.

Rapinoe didn't play the game of her life.

Why set-pieces are dominating the World Cup like never before

She looked at times like someone whose touch was half a beat off after missing training. But she put the ball in dangerous spots multiple times in the first half, denied only by Sari van Veenendaal's goalkeeping.

And with the ball on the penalty spot in the 61st minute, Rapinoe calmly finished her third penalty in as many tries this World Cup. The first woman to start three consecutive World Cup finals, Rapinoe will go down as the face of this tournament -- and the voice of it. Obviously, getting to play at the highest level in a World Cup with a team like we have is just ridiculous. But to be able to couple that with everything off the field -- and to back up all of those words with performances, and then back up all of those performances with words, it's just incredible.

Rewind three years, and it wasn't clear who the voice of this team would be. Mostly that was because it wasn't clear what Rapinoe's standing was after she struggled to make it back from injury in time for the Olympics and then struggled to contribute in that tournament. She was 31 years old and being asked to revitalize, if not reinvent, her game.

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A few months later, she was booed loudly upon entering games in Columbus, Ohio, and Atlanta after kneeling during the national anthem. There are almost as many reasons that this team became what it is as there are players on the roster, but start with Rapinoe. Start with that pose she struck again after scoring.


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On the field, Sunday wasn't quite the capstone that Carli Lloyd enjoyed four years ago with a hat trick in the final in Canada, but it was more than enough. Because the tournament's Golden Boot winner brings a lot more than goals to the table. Perhaps the most impressive moment for Lavelle in this World Cup came when she talked about her performance in the quarterfinal with France. Granted, the U. All the more for someone playing in her first World Cup in her early 20s.

The point being, Lavelle kept a pretty even keel for such a big stage. And after a strong semifinal performance against England, she was good from the start in the final.

History of the Soccer World Cup from 1954-1966

Whether it was dropping back into a left back position to cover for Kelley O'Hara at times or chasing 50 yards back to blow up counters albeit sometimes off her own turnovers , Lavelle, who won the Bronze Ball as one of the tournament's top players after scoring three goals in six games, was always easy to spot because she was right in the middle of the action.

Then came the yard run with the ball. The Dutch defenders retreated and retreated, she made one quick touch to her left to get past Stefanie van der Gragt, then shot back in the direction she came from. I feel like she just does things casually that are out of this world. The United States waited a long time for Lavelle to shake up its midfield, showing patience as she battled injuries after a sensational debut in It was well worth the wait for a rising star -- or as Rapinoe said, a star already.

Lavelle retreated to a bunk bed and cried when the U. Sunday she made sure a lot more kids will be out trying Johan Cruyff turns and yard rips in their backyard. Sunday was the first World Cup final for the Netherlands and the first for about half of the U.


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Almost an hour into the game, video assistant review made its debut, too. After having more of the ball in the opening half without getting anything past van Veenendaal, the U. The ball deflected off a Dutch player and floated toward Morgan.

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