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A penalty with 20 seconds to go was all that separated the USA and France in the third group match of the 2017 IFA Futsal World Cup, as the Stars and Stripes came out on top 3-2 over Les Bleus.
This was without doubt the most intense match on the opening day, between two passionate teams with very vocal sets of supporters. After a goal-laden first half that finished 2-2 the game was a stalemate for all but 19 minutes and 40 seconds of the second period, until Maricella Padilla blasted home the winning penalty.
France started the brighter of the two sides and were the first to cause problems on the attack. Player-coach Mylene Deschamps pressured the American defence into making a mistake and the loose pass fell to the feet of Margot Robinne. Sylia Kouli was darting down the left wing and Robinne timed the lay off to perfection, but her teammate’s shot fizzed over the bar from 15 yards.
Robinne then decided to take scoring the game’s opening goal into her own hands. Running on to a through ball just inside the box, she quickly eyed up the keeper before calmly but firmly steering the ball past Gabriela Batmani in the US goal.
At this point the only shots the USA could muster were coming from distance, mainly through Padilla. With the French pressing high and hard in the American half of the court, the team in blue were forced into many problems. But as soon as the USA found their feet they also found a goal. Youngster Ellie Pope finished off a flowing move from the cross of Katelyn Nebesnick on the left, after a brilliant pass out of defence by Emily Kuo.
Kuo’s distribution from the back cost her a few moments later when an errant pass was intercepted and punished with thunderous left-footed drive into the net by Fanny Gosseye on the French left wing, to fire them in front once more.
The Americans looked unsettled by the loss of a goal so quickly after scoring their own and France slowed the game down to suit them. The Europeans were much better out of possession than their opponents from across the Atlantic, and much less careless in possession. This was the only difference between the two sides at this point, and it showed on the scoreboard.
Out of nowhere however the USA found a stroke of luck and the back of the net. Jessica Cowart drove home the equaliser from close range with a right-footed shot that flew past Gaelle Bisson.
The French keeper than made a terrific double save to prevent her side going behind, denying Kuo who had advanced forward to latch onto the end of a skilful flick from Raylene Larot on the edge of the box. Kuo’s right-footed drive was blocked and Bisson cut off the angle for her second attempt, spreading herself to thwart the shot.
Half Time: France 2-2 USA
The second half started in end-to-end fashion and the fans picked up right where they left off in the first period, roaring their teams on. A great save from Bisson denied the spinning Veronica Cashman from a tight angle, before Pope went close.
The USA pressed on from here and experienced a period of domination as France struggled to keep up. Cashman and then substitute Raleigh Loughman passed up golden chances on the counter following a signature burst out from the back by Padilla.
Deschamps, who was doing the bulk of the work in the centre for the French, let rip with a stunning shot headed for the top corner but USA sub goalkeeper Alejandra Palominos Maldonado reacted with an even more stunning save, diving spectacularly to her left to tip the ball past the post.
After a five-minute flurry of pressure from the USA, the French started to regain more of a foothold in the game as the second period wore on, hemming the Americans deep inside their own half. Robinne had found a new lease of life and was dictating the flow of the match from the centre of the pitch, driving at goal and taking on shots and building attacks from all over the court.
Bisson had been a standout player thus far but her decision to rush out and try to sweep the ball away from Nebesnick was not the wisest, luckily however the striker’s shot to an open goal swooned off to the right.The Americans were now really turning up the heat on their opponents as the clock ticked into the last five minutes. Emily Kuo rounded Bisson but Arnelia Koutoupot made a spectacular recovery to clear the ball off the line. Kuo slid the ball past the on-rushing Bisson with the sole of her foot before shaping to roll it home for what would be a fatal goal for France, but Koutoupot threw her body at the ball and scooped it away from danger.
However, controversy struck in the last minute as Nebesnick drove towards the French penalty area. The powerful midfielder had been her country’s main threat for most of the second period but as she dribbled past Bisson and went down under her challenge, the French players gestured frantically that the young keeper had touched the ball first. With 19 seconds left on the clock Padilla stepped up as the nerves raced through her veins and thundered into the net to the joy of the travelling American support.
This will be a tough defeat to take for France who competed with tremendous effort despite having fewer players in their whole squad than the Americans had on their bench. The Americans however never allowed frustration to cloud their ambitions but will face another strong side Sweden next time out. France will be hoping to rebound with three points against Spain before a potential decider against Sweden on Friday.
Full Time: France 2-3 USA
France: 3- Fanny Gosseye, 6- Maude Perchey, 7- Marine Magnier, 8- Margot Robinne, 9- Marie Desplanques, 10- Mylene Deschamps (C), 14- Sylia Koui,16- Gaelle Bisson (GK), 17- Arnelia Koutoupot
MVP: Gaelle Bisson. The France goalkeeper was arguably hard done by with the penalty decision at the end of the match, even more so because she made some amazing saves throughout to keep her team within a chance of winning. Her emotions showed when the penalty flew into the net despite her valiant effort.
USA: 1- Raylene Larot, 2- Veronica Cashman, 3- Gabriella Batmani (GK), 5- Julie Meurer, 6- Emily Kuo, 7- Katelyn Nebesnick, 8- Maricela Padilla, 9- Erika Lum, 10- Jessica Cowart, 11- Alejandra Palominos Maldonado (GK), 12- Raleigh Loughman, 13- Ellie Pope, 14- Jillian Jordan, 17- Jessica Sanchez
MVP: Katelyn Nebesnick and Maricela Padilla. It was too hard to separate these players. For much of the second half Nebesnick was the constant drive force for the US, even as the personnel changed around her. Padilla however was the linchpin in defence in the first half, building many an attack from the back, and also had the steel to win the game with the penalty.