Rea: Good luck, skill team to lift USA into World Cup final _lowres

Associated Press photo by Ryan Remiorz -- U.S. team captain Carli Lloyd scores on a penalty kick that helped key a 2-0 win over Germany in the Women's World Cup semifinals Tuesday in Montreal.

I told you there was no need to worry.

Team USA produced when it mattered most, a sparkling performance to defeat the best team in the world that leaves them just 90 minutes away from being crowned champions. Not a bad effort from (what some soccer experts had labeled) a disjointed and shot-shy outfit.

The semifinal against Germany was a titanic tussle stuffed full of drama, controversy and skill, and was a wonderful advert for the women’s game. It was the most physical female soccer contest I’ve ever seen and probably the fastest-paced as well. The closing minutes especially flew by in a frenetic blur.

Video replays and TV technology are commonplace in global sports from NFL to cricket; but in soccer, refereeing decisions come down to opinion and interpretation. You can watch an incident a dozen times in slow motion and still two officials will see it differently. And this is why we love it so.

A couple of huge calls went the Americans’ way in the match. Firstly, it was a definite stonewall penalty as Julie Johnston clearly hauled down German attacker Alexandra Popp. If Romanian referee Teodora Albon had sent her off for denying a goal-scoring opportunity, there could have been no argument. Every week all over the planet, players are red-carded for the same offence, and she was undoubtedly fortunate to escape with a yellow card instead.

So if German Celia Sasic had converted the spot-kick and the States had been both a goal and a player down with half-an-hour to play ... well, you would not have backed them to recover from that.

Instead, within 10 minutes, they go down the other end and get a penalty of their own. Was it a foul? Was it inside the penalty box? Again the call went against the Europeans; and this time, American captain Carli Lloyd took full advantage. Lucky, lucky, USA.

But in soccer, you make your own luck, and to put this victory down simply to fortune would be disingenuous to the fantastic team effort. You can debate the merits of these key decisions all you like, but there can be no doubt that the States was the better team and fully deserved their win.

Once more the success was built on a rock-solid defense. One mis-hit cross that goalkeeper Hope Solo had to palm away was the sum total of all the shots on target — from the country currently ranked the best in the world. The States is now closing in on nine hours without conceding a goal on the biggest, toughest, most competitive stage of all.

Keep it tight at the back and take your chances up front. It’s a tried and trusted formula, and one that may lead to the women in red, white and blue winning the tournament Sunday when they take on Japan in a repeat of the last World Cup final.

Japan triumphed over England in the cruelest of circumstances — at least for English defender Laura Bassett, who scored an own goal in the second minute of injury time. In decades of watching soccer, I can’t remember a more heart-breaking finish.

The Americans swept aside the Germans, and I feel confident they have enough firepower to defeat the Japanese.