July 2, 2019 / 9:59 PM / 14 days ago

Soccer-Morgan hails keeper Naeher as U.S. head back to final

LYON, France, July 2 (Reuters) - United States striker Alex Morgan celebrated her 30th birthday with the winning goal as the three-times World Cup winners defeated England 2-1 on Tuesday in a thrilling semi-final.

Morgan’s 31st-minute header secured the victory after England’s Ellen White had cancelled out Christen Press’s 10th-minute opener.

The striker celebrated her perfectly placed header by a mocking ‘sip of tea’ celebration as England’s defenders looked on.

“Just incredible by the team today,” said Morgan, who paid tribute to goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher for saving a late penalty from England captain Steph Houghton that could have forced extra time.

“Alyssa Naeher, she needs to be player of the match. She saved our butts today. This was such a great game for us to build on and now we’ve made it to the final. It’s what we’ve been waiting on,” she said.

The U.S. team’s English-born coach Jill Ellis spread around the praise for a powerful display from her team.

“I can’t even express how proud I am. It was just such a great effort from everybody. We had some challenges in terms of bodies and everyone stepped up. That’s what this team is about. I’m just incredibly proud of them,” she said.

Amidst the celebrations after the final whistle, Ellis managed to speak to Naeher and thank her for the spot-kick save.

“I just said that was your shining moment but we’ve got one more game. What a freaking stop, it was unbelievable. But just front to back I couldn’t be more proud of this group of players,” she said.

The U.S. victory was all the more impressive given that they were without one of their top players and dressing-room leader Megan Rapinoe who was left out with a minor hamstring injury.

Rapinoe said the injury should not keep her sidelined for long and she was hopeful of being fit for Sunday’s final against the winners of Wednesday’s semi between the Netherlands and Sweden.​

“It’s just a little minor strain,” said the 33-year-old winger.

“It is day to day but I feel like I’ll be ready for the final. It’s hard, three days on the bounce with this old body,” she said with a smile.

“When you’re on the bench you just need to be hype for the team, give those little tidbits but really just that energy; it helps so much.” (Reporting by Simon Evans; editing by Clare Fallon)

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