Rapinoe hopes to be ready for final despite hamstring strain

Sports

United States’ Megan Rapinoe prepares to hug United States goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher after the Women’s World Cup semifinal soccer match between England and the United States, at the Stade de Lyon, outside Lyon, France, Tuesday, July 2, 2019. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

LYON, France (AP) — A minor hamstring strain kept star forward Megan Rapinoe out of the United States’ nail-biting 2-1 win over England in the Women’s World Cup semifinals Tuesday night.

It didn’t stop her from pouring off the bench with the other substitutes to congratulate their teammates, and Rapinoe is confident it won’t rule her out of Sunday’s final against either the Netherlands or Sweden.

Rapinoe was injured late in the second half of the 2-1 win against France last Friday.

“It just tightened up a little bit toward the end. Just wasn’t going to be ready for today,” Rapinoe told reporters after the victory against England moved the U.S. closer to a fourth World Cup title. “But it’s feeling much better and I expect to be ready for the final.”

When asked how confident she was, she replied: “It’s a combination of how it feels and how it looks and what I can do. I expect (with) how it feels now to be ready. As is with these things, you just have to go day by day and see how it is.”

Rapinoe watched nervously from the bench as England had an apparent equalizer by its own star forward Ellen White ruled out for offside and, with just a few minutes remaining, watched goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher save a penalty kick by England.

There was widespread elation at the end, but for Rapinoe it was torture to watch.

“It’s terrible. It’s so stressful,” she said, breaking out into a smile of relief. “It’s hard. You put everything into this game … You have everything invested in it and no way to get rid of your anxiety.”

At the final whistle, she jumped into the arms of her teammates, embracing them one by one.

When she finally reached goalkeeper Naeher, she bear-hugged her first and then lifted her off her feet.

Rapinoe joked that she could have injured her glutes in the process, and then praised her ice-cool teammate.

“That was a huge performance from her, to be in that moment,” Rapinoe said. “It’s one thing to take a penalty, it’s another to save one and keep your cool. To make a save like that is just fantastic for her.”

Naeher was not the only one making a big impact.

Rapinoe’s replacement, Christen Press, opened the scoring in clinical style, heading Kelley O’Hara’s pinpoint cross from the right powerfully into the top left corner after just 10 minutes.

“Maybe they don’t need me for the final. Maybe I just got pushed right to the side,” Rapinoe said. “It’s ridiculous, we’ve talked about our depth for a long time now as something we’re going to need throughout this tournament … and it was on full display tonight.”

Rapinoe had scored four goals in the past two games, and five overall during the tournament.

On Sunday night, she would love to cap off an intense tournament in style — a high-profile tournament where she has stood out with her goals, her pinkish-purple hair and also by standing by her opinions.

In the days leading up to the quarterfinal against France, video surfaced of her saying she wouldn’t visit the White House if the team won the World Cup — and she accompanied it with an expletive.

While the interview was from January, it attracted President Donald Trump’s attention and he tweeted: “Megan should never disrespect our Country, the White House, or our Flag, especially since so much has been done for her & the team.” Trump added that he would invite the team to Washington, win or lose.

Rapinoe, who is currently in a relationship with WNBA star Sue Bird, stood by the statement — except for the coarse language she’d used.

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