LA PLATA, Argentina (AP) – Rest up, recover and do it all over again. While fans stateside suddenly rediscovered their love for women's soccer on Sunday, 12 years to the day after their first true romance with the game, the United States Women's National Team found itself needing to refocus.
Clearly, the US was riding an emotional high after Sunday's penalty kick victory over Brazil. It was arguably the most important victory in team history and undoubtedly the biggest win since that 1999 penalty shootout win over China in the final. And how could anybody not be emotional? The tension in Sunday's match was palpable even across the Atlantic; it felt like a final.
But the Americans now face the task of avoiding that post-big victory hangover. You know, that sitting on top of the world, American hero, invincible feeling that a match like Sunday's - a once-in-a-career occurrence - evokes. Sometime between leaving the field in Dresden on Sunday and waking up for a recovery session on Monday it had to hit this team: We're still only at the semifinals. To top that off, Wednesday's semifinal against France kicks off less than 72 hours after their 120 minute-plus, emotionally and physically exhausting fight against Brazil.
Such a short turnaround time is no easy task. The mental aspect is hard enough, given how the American public has instantly thrust this team into the spotlight. In a "what have you done for me lately?" society, the US women know that the fan fare could disappear just as quickly as the team's second-minute goal to open the scoring came on Sunday.
And then there is the physical aspect. Playing for 120 minutes is taxing on the body. Doing that in the German summer heat and in a World Cup quarterfinal in a bruising match against a bitter rival is downright punishing. Monday was a recovery day and there is no doubt that some tired legs carried over into Tuesday. This is, after all, the oldest of the 16 teams in the tournament.
Luckily for the US, France too had to endure 120 minutes followed by penalty kicks, but Les Bleus outlasted England on Saturday, giving them an extra 24 hours of recovery.
Even more dangerous for the Americans is how naïve this French team is (a typically insulting trait that is in this case admirable). Not once in this tournament has France looked rattled. Not in losing 4-2 to Germany in group play, not while trailing England for 28 minutes in Saturday's quarterfinal and certainly not in penalty kicks against the English (who are currently cringing at the very thought of that white spot 12 yards from goal).
Yes, France is inexperienced. Les Bleus had previously never even made it out of the group stage and currently feature just five players from the team that played in the 2003 Women's World Cup.
But while some may point to inexperience as a possible downfall to France, it should be noted that the team is convincingly mature. Young stars Louisa Necib, Marie-Laure Delie and Gaëtane Thiney are playing with confidence and have shown hardly any frustration this tournament. They are composed under pressure and even when wronged by a bad call or tough foul they keep their mouths shut and their heads up.
They will not be scared of the United States, which enters the match as a slight favorite over the first-time semifinalists. There is no awe factor for France. There is in fact a remarkable and unprecedented swagger about this French team.
So for the US, the first step is putting Sunday in the past, at least for the next week. Beyond the physical and mental recovery, the Americans face what has surprisingly been the tournament's most consistent team thus far.
Christie Rampone and the US defense must deny the front three of Delie, Necib and Thiney, especially, any space around the box. All three have proven to be lethal finishers from long range. U.S. head coach Pia Sundhage faces a tough decision in replacing Rachel Buehler, who was red carded in the 65th minute against Brazil for her challenge on Marta inside the box.
Becky Sauerbrunn could make her way into the lineup or Sundhage could slide Amy LePeilbet into her more natural center back role and start Stephanie Cox at left back. Regardless, both will be tasked with keeping track of a free-flowing French attack that sends numbers through from the midfield.
Speedy American midfielder Heather O'Reilly will match up with French left back Sonia Bompastor - one of the best players in this tournament - out on France's left flank in what could be the key match-up of the game.
Offensively, the US will need creative, dynamic runs from Abby Wambach, Amy Rodriguez and the rest of the squad to sneak into the blind side of France's defenders just as England's Kelly Smith did in the opening seconds of Saturday's quarterfinal.
For the US, Sunday's win over Brazil was one of championship proportion. The key now is how well the players grasp that a championship is still at least 180 minutes away. Otherwise, Wambach's miracle goal becomes nothing more than a highlight reel clip and an award show nomination for "best moment." But the US women already know that.