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The pre-match chatter concerned the international tension between the United States and Russia but the game turned out to be one played in nothing but good spirits by both sides. It was one-way traffic for most of the game and the US cruised through thanks to goals from Katelyn Lebesnick, Raleigh Loughman and Maricela Padilla, and in truth they could have had more.
A lovely flowing move from the USA produced the first shot at goal. Loughman ran onto Padilla’s lay-off at the edge of the penalty area and opened her body up to curl the ball with the inside of her right foot, only to see it drag narrowly wide. She went close again moments later in similar fashion; her shot was on target this time but too tame to trouble Elena Lukashina.
Russia failed to move the ball out of defence for much of the opening five minutes. Lebesnick’s presence was a consistent problem and Raylene Larot’s tenacity was a thorn in the side of the opposing defenders, as the USA pinned their opponents inside their own half.
The introductions of Veronica Cashman and Jessika Cowart added some spark to the US’ fire. With those two on the pitch the likes of Svetlana Nikolskaia and Svetlana Triapichnikova struggled to keep up with their pace and ingenuity, and Cashman almost opening the scoring in the seventh minute but her toe-poke flashed wide. The constant US threat was also quashing the potential dangers that could be caused by Nikolskaia and Irina Koturanova. The captain eventually mustered Russia’s first shot in the ninth minute but Gabriel Batmani saved with ease.
But it was that girl Lebesnick who opened the scoring. The MVP from her team’s opening match popped up in the middle of the Russian half, letting Loughman's ball from the right run across her body. Without hesitation she swung her left foot at the ball, smacking a shot that whizzed past Lukashina and almost burst the net. Lebesnick then crossed for Cashman in the box a minute later with a chance to double the lead, but she couldn’t turn the ball past Russian keeper. Lebesnick’s influence was proving invaluable all over the field, evidenced in the last minute of the half when she timed a tackle on Koturanova to perfection to thwart a Russian counter attack.
Half Time: Russia 0-1 USA
Second period started in more end-to-end fashion, with Koturanova and Nikolskaia finding more time to link up and probe the American defence. Cowart was the main threat for the leaders but it was the Russians who registered the first shot since the restart, and it was a golden chance. Neat play between Koturanova and Nikolskaia on the edge of the area led to a left-wing cross from the latter to the head of Viktoriia Bonderava but somehow she managed to miss from a yard out – the Americans could breathe again.
The USA reasserted their dominance as Emily Kuo and Loughman began to see more of the ball. The former also had claims for a penalty waved away in the tenth minute when she was tackled from behind by Triapichnikova.
A second goal from the USA came courtesy of a neat combination by Loughman and Padilla on the right hand side of the court. A kick-in from near the corner by Loughman was smashed into the top corner by the unmarked Padilla, leaving Lukashina with no chance.
Being two goals down brought some urgency into the Russian ranks. Nikolskaia and Triapichnikova both had attempts go close but the added commitment in attack left them vulnerable in defence, and Loughman duly exploited the gaps. A silky burst up the middle of the court led to her coolly steering the ball into the goal to put the game all but beyond doubt. The Russians would need to average a goal every two minutes to force a penalty shootout, with six minutes on the clock.
Clearly the Stars and Stripes were in no mood to be on the receiving end of a miraculous comeback. Kuo continued to be effective in possession in the centre while Larot and Padilla tested the goal of Lukashina, but couldn’t add to the lead.
Nevertheless, the late profligacy didn’t matter and the USA could finally celebrate having booked their place in the final for a match against another international rival: Australia. This was a deserved victory for an organised and disciplined American team that showed their class and style from the first whistle to the last. Russia will have to pick themselves up for the third-place playoff against Sweden, and will hope for a return to form for the likes of Nikolskaia.
Full Time: Russia 0-3 USA
Russia: 16- Elena Lukashina (GK), 3- Elizaveta Kaleneva, 7- Aleksandra Shuliak, 8- Svetlana Nikolskaia, 9- Iana Zimirova, 10- Irina Koturanova (C), 11- Svetlana Triapichnikova, 12- Viktoriia Ivanova, 13- Daria Golovnina, 14- Viktoriia Bondareva
MVP: Viktoriia Bondareva. She was the main goal threat for her team today and if she had stuck her header from close range home when the score was at 1-0, who knows what might have happened.
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, 17- Jessica Sanchez, 18- Jillian Jordan
MVP: Katelyn Nebesnick and Raleigh Loughman. It was impossible to separate these two. Lebesnick was the standout player in the first half and her goal was a display of sheer brilliance. Loughman was the primary creative force for the States with her passing and dribbling in the match, and her goal was also a thing of beauty.