The U.S. women's national team was pushed longer than it had been by any other team in France, but the Americans finally broke through to win the Women's World Cup title yet again.
A VAR-given penalty kick was converted by Megan Rapinoe in the 61st minute, and Rose Lavelle padded the advantage eight minutes later, putting the Americans on course to beat the Netherlands in Lyon for their fourth title and their second in a row in a hard-fought 2-0 victory.
Both U.S. goal scorers had injury questions entering the match but were given clean bills of health in time for the final–and given how it played out, it's a good thing for the U.S. Rapinoe, who missed the semifinal vs. England, and Lavelle, who exited during it, both were cleared after respective hamstring injuries, and both were influential throughout the victory.
The U.S., as it has all tournament long, began on the front foot, holding possession inside the Netherlands half for the opening two minutes, while the Dutch struggled to come up with a simple clearance.
When the Netherlands finally did break forward, it was after Alex Morgan took a hit to the midsection, going down in a heap. The U.S. played on, as did the Netherlands on the counter, but Martens' ball trying to change the point of attack was wildly hit out of play, and Morgan recovered quickly to remain in the game.
The Dutch employed a physical strategy on defense in a rather fearless approach, but it cost them early. Sherida Spitse, one of the side's most important players, was whistled and yellow carded for a studs-up challenge on Lavelle in the 10th minute, limiting her capacity for aggressive play for the remainder of the match. For the U.S., nothing came of the ensuing set piece, which was delivered from a dangerous area on the field.
As the match crept into the 13th minute, the U.S. was faced with something it hadn't yet seen in France: a 0 next to its name on the scoreboard. After scoring so early in the six preceding matches, the USA failed to break down the Oranje's resolute and sometimes desperate defending in the opening stages. Suffice it to say, the start was vastly different to that of four years ago, when the Americans effectively ended the final vs. Japan in a quarter of an hour.
For the U.S., which controlled two-thirds of the possession in the opening half hour, its most dangerous forays forward came when trying to feed Rapinoe or Tobin Heath with long service down the flanks. The Dutch did well to funnel it to safety, though.
The first time the Netherlands looked to threaten came in the 26th minute. Lineth Beerensteyn got in behind the defense, splitting the U.S.'s high-playing center backs, but Alyssa Naeher, the semifinal goalkeeping hero, raced off her line to clear it to safety and prevent the chance from coming to fruition.
The USA finally tested Naeher's counterpart, Sari van Veenendaal, in the 28th minute. It came off a set piece, with the initial clearance falling for Julie Ertz. She put a powerful volley on frame, but the Netherlands goalkeeper parried it to safety, and the rebound was skied out of play to keep things scoreless.
Van Veenendaal was at it again 10 minutes later, making two big saves to keep the U.S. off the board. The second came on a redirect from Morgan by the near post, with van Veenendaal reacting quickly and pouncing on the minor rebound to end the threat.
She made yet another stop in the 40th minute, robbing Morgan again. The Golden Boot leader took a low rip from 18 yards, but the Dutch goalkeeper got down to her left to make the diving save.
The teams endured a scary moment as the match crossed into first-half stoppage time, with Kelley O'Hara and Martens colliding head-to-head on an aerial challenge. They were both ultimately O.K. after spending several moments on the ground, and after a series of chaotic clearances after two Netherlands set pieces, the match went to half scoreless. For the Dutch, it was nothing unfamiliar–they've been tied at halftime in all seven matches in France.
To start the second half, Ali Krieger replaced O'Hara, who was ruled out with the head injury she suffered.
The U.S. had another defender go down with a head injury nine minutes into the second half. It was Becky Sauerbrunn who took the brunt of a head-to-head collision, suffering a cut on her forehead before walking off for more medical attention and leaving the USA temporarily with 10 players. Sauerbrunn returned in the 57th minute after being checked out and bandaged up.
The USA took the lead in controversial fashion just after the hour mark. Stefanie van der Gragt extended a high boot while both she and Morgan went for a ball in the Netherlands box. After initially going uncalled, VAR intervened, and a video review resulted in the USA being given a penalty. Rapinoe stepped to the spot and beat van Veenendaal for her sixth goal of the competition, making it 1-0.
The lead doubled a few minutes later. Lavelle breezed through the midfield and dribbled toward the top of the box, where she took a blast and beat van Veenendaal, extending the lead to 2-0 and giving the U.S. some much-needed breathing room in the 69th minute.
The U.S. could've added to the lead later, too. Both Crystal Dunn and Morgan had shots from left-sided angles saved well by van Veenendaal, keeping her side within realistic striking range. Given how the U.S. closed out the match, though, a comeback was never likely to be in the cards.
The U.S. never trailed in the competition, winning all seven games by outscoring opponents 26-3. Rapinoe, whose penalty nudged her ahead of Morgan in the golden boot race, also took home golden ball honors as the competition's best player.
Here were the lineups for both sides:
Here are the rosters for both teams:
GOALKEEPERS: Adrianna Franch (Portland Thorns), Ashlyn Harris (Orlando Pride), Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars)
DEFENDERS: Abby Dahlkemper (NC Courage), Tierna Davidson (Chicago Red Stars); Crystal Dunn (NC Courage), Ali Krieger (Orlando Pride), Kelley O'Hara (Utah Royals), Becky Sauerbrunn (Utah Royals), Emily Sonnett (Portland Thorns)
MIDFIELDERS: Morgan Brian (Chicago Red Stars), Julie Ertz (Chicago Red Stars), Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns), Rose Lavelle (Washington Spirit), Allie Long (Seattle Reign), Samantha Mewis (NC Courage)
FORWARDS: Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns); Carli Lloyd (Sky Blue FC), Jessica McDonald (NC Courage), Alex Morgan (Orlando Pride), Christen Press (Utah Royals), Mallory Pugh (Washington Spirit), Megan Rapinoe (Seattle Reign)
GOALKEEPERS: Loes Geurts (Goteborg), Lize Kop (Ajax), Sari van Veenendaal (Arsenal)
DEFENDERS: Dominique Bloodworth (Wolfsburg), Anouk Dekker (Montpellier), Danique Kerkdijk (Bristol City), Stefanie van der Gragt (Barcelona), Liza van der Most (Ajax), Merel van Dongen (Real Betis), Kika van Es (Ajax), Desiree van Lunteren (Freiburg)
MIDFIELDERS: Jackie Groenen (Manchester United), Inessa Kaagman (Everton), Victoria Pelova (Ajax), Jill Roord (Arsenal), Sherida Spitse (Valerenga), Danielle van de Donk (Arsenal)
FORWARDS: Lineth Beerensteyn (Bayern Munich), Ellen Jansen (Ajax), Renate Jansen (Twente), Lieke Martens (Barcelona), Vivianne Miedema (Arsenal), Shanice van de Sanden (Lyon)