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Carli Lloyd, Revamped Offense Lead U.S. Women Past Germany and Into Final

MONTREAL, Quebec -- We don't know how the World Cup will end, but we now know it will end with the United States on the field.

Behind Carli Lloyd's second-half penalty kick and assist on Kelley O'Hara's insurance goal, the United States beat -- in fact, upset -- the world's No. 1-ranked team, toppling Germany 2-0. It marked the second game in a row in which Lloyd both started as captain and scored the winning goal.

The United States now returns to Vancouver for the final on Sunday and will play the winner of Wednesday's semifinal between defending champion Japan and England. Should Japan advance, the game next weekend would mark the third time in a row the two teams contested the final of a major tournament. Japan won the 2011 World Cup final in a penalty shootout, while the United States won gold in the 2012 Olympics.

It will be the United States, not Germany, playing in a record fourth final and with the chance to win a record third World Cup title.

Here are three observations from the semifinal.

1. Alex Morgan's persistence paid off for United States

A story on the official FIFA site that generated quite a bit of social media buzz in the hours before the semifinal focused first on some of Alex Morgan's other attributes, in a very 1950s kind of way, but the American forward's persistence was a beautiful thing.

Morgan was not the best player on the field for the United States through the totality of Tuesday's game. Passes got away from her. Chances got away from her. Courtesy of a Tobin Heath pass that split the German defense in the ninth minute, Morgan found herself with nothing but Nadine Angerer between her and the back of the net. A goal would have been doubly sweet for Morgan against her former Portland Thorns FC teammate because of comments Angerer made last year about Morgan's durability, but the shot didn't force the keeper to move as she deflected it safely away with her foot.

Then a chance in the 42nd minute required quite a bit of skill from Morgan to first chip the ball over German defender Annike Krahn. Her attempt to chip Angerer from a tight angle, about the only option Morgan had, drifted back onto the field of play.

Minutes before the game's decisive play in the second half, she broke through from a tight angle again and this time tried to beat Angerer low at the far post. Morgan's hands told the story as she covered her mouth as the ball slipped not far wide of the far post.

And then she was running forward again, taking Meghan Klingenberg's pass and driving through the defense before she was fouled by Krahn just inside the 18-yard-box, at least as the referee assessed it. Lloyd drilled home the penalty, but Morgan's persistence on a night when she wasn't great at the outset yet stuck with it won the day.

2. This is a result the team should enjoy

Make no mistake, while it was a two-goal win, the result in Tuesday's semifinal could have been flipped and the Germans would not have been entirely undeserving winners. It was as taut as a game on this stage should be between the top two teams in the world. But the United States, which has been telling us for weeks that it simply knows how to come through in the big moments, did exactly that. The Americans played hard, they played well and when good fortune was needed, as on a German second-half penalty kick with the score still tied, good fortune arrived and Celia Sasic's shot slipped wide.

But if part of this was intangible, part of it was also very much tangible. For the first time this tournament, the United States played its best lineup -- not necessarily its best 11 players, although a case could be made for that, too, but its best lineup to play against a team that wasn't going to roll over at the sight of American stamina and strength.

Morgan Brian was terrific for the second game in a row in the holding position that suited neither Lloyd nor Lauren Holiday in the opening four games. Lloyd and Holiday didn't rampage through the opposing team as a result, but that's because the opposing team was Germany. With its best attacking assets available, the United States had the better of possession in the first half, created the best chances and ultimately put itself in position to score goals in the second half.

It wasn't a perfect game because, as the Americans have also constantly reminded us, it's difficult to play a perfect game in the World Cup. But it was a game, a strategy and an effort perfectly suited to a World Cup semifinal. This was a good win. A very good win.

3. Germany pays the penalty

After an exhausting 120 minutes against France, physically and mentally, Germany booked its place in the semifinal on penalty kicks. Flawless from the spot, Sasic netted two in that epic battle, first tying the score in regulation time and then holding her nerve to net the decisive shootout kick.

After going 12-for-12 in Women's World Cup history, it was understandable that Germany sensed its opportunity once again when Julie Johnston pulled Alexandra Popp down inside the area.

The whole bench lined up, as it had done in witnessing Friday's dramatic shootout, waiting for that moment to leap into the air in unison.

Whether Sasic was psyched out by Hope Solo's delay tactics, the tension got to her or even the accumulated tiredness started to take its toll, Germany's number 13 -- the tournament's top-scorer -- set a precedent Germany did not want. Not in this match.

The 27-year-old, who celebrated her birthday hours after taking Germany into the final four, was already raising her arms in desperation before the ball trickled wide of Solo's post. She knew she, and Germany, had paid the penalty.

A generous spot-kick for the United States -- some might call it karma for the one given for Germany against France -- saw this semifinal decided on a penalty, only this time Germany was on the receiving end.

In truth, the penalty Germany really paid was its failure to deliver the goods for a prolonged period. Few will disagree that when the Germans have been on song, they have had few equals in Canada. However, aside from its round-of-16 win over an admittedly weak, off-color Sweden, Germany has struggled to assert itself in a game for more than 45 minutes.

After an excellent opening half against the Ivory Coast, Germany saw no need to humiliate the African nation in the second half. After an authoritative start against Norway, it was played off the park in the second period and left relieved with the tie.

Against France, Germany did not turn up for the first 45 minutes and used up a good portion of its tournament luck in surviving that meeting. Any remaining luck it had was used up in another lackluster first half against the U.S. women, though this time, its better half was obscured by that spot-kick default.

Germany leaves its second straight World Cup short of the finish line without having shown the energy to get where it wanted to be. Superiority needs to be asserted over 90 minutes and Germany just could not strike the right balance.