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The Week In Sports: The World Cup Conclusion


It's time now for sports.


NEARY: England beat out Germany for the bronze yesterday. Tonight, Japan and the United States battle for silver and gold. It's the final weekend of the Women's World Cup. And Mike Pesca, host of Slate's The Gist podcast, is here to talk us through it. Good morning, Mike.


NEARY: Well, England was elated with their 1-0 win over the Germans. And it seemed to be kind of a redemption for England's Laura Bassett. She made that huge blunder and actually scored into her own net giving Japan the win in the semifinals. Do you think she managed to recover in yesterday's game?

PESCA: I think so. As you said, one-nil, that's the final score. And she was a key part of the nil. England scoring in the hundred-eighth minute. Also, this is England's first win against Germany in 21 tries. Germany really is a great team. It's not the case like - you look at Brazil in the men's tournament - oh, they weren't as good as they thought they were. They were. They just faced, in the semifinal rounds, a great U.S. team. And England is really rounding into a soccer power.

NEARY: Well, I have to say I was relieved by this win because I was relieved for the sake of Laura Bassett because I know these kinds sports blunders - when they happen, they can really ruin a players life, can't they?

PESCA: Yeah. The most infamous of all was in 1994 World Cup, Andres Escobar own goal for Colombia against the United States, thus eliminating Colombia from the tournament - literally killed for it; gunned down in Medellin not soon thereafter. Usually, it's not that dire, but these plays tend to live with people. Famously, Chris Webber called a timeout he didn't have in the NCAA tournament. Unlike Chris Webber, who made $178 million in his playing career, however, someone like Laura Bassett - this is what she has. So it's good she goes out on a win if, in fact, one of England's most decorated players has played her last World Cup game.

NEARY: Yeah. OK, so tonight's final - America versus Japan - will USA's strong defense prevail here?

PESCA: The defense has been excellent, and Hope Solo, the goaltender has been good - but not even really tested, in fact, if they go to halftime without having let up a goal, even before then, they'll have set a record - the United States will, for most consecutive minutes without a goal. Now, the great thing about how the United States is playing - their defense, their back line has been stall work. But where do they get the offense from? And it did seem in the beginning games of the tournament in group play, they had the wrong players on the field. They had Abby Wombach, who has scored almost 200 goals in World Cup - and international competition I should say. She's great, but she's old. She didn't have the pace - soccer term for, you know, the fitness for being able to run fast. They tweaked things. They didn't push everyone forward, but they allowed a key player, Morgan Brian, to take care of defense more. This freed Carli Lloyd, who, you know her name. She's been scoring left and right. If the United States wins, she will probably be named the best player of the tournament. Why? Because she's so great. Well, she is great, but it's a coaching decision that relies on her teammates to do some of the dirty work - free up a player like Carli Lloyd to do what she can on offense. But Japan is no joke. They hold the ball. They possess the ball. They set records for possession. The United States will have to counterattack and take their chances and be very patient because Japan is going to be extremely patient as well.

NEARY: All right, well, we've got time for a quick curveball, Mike. What have you got?

PESCA: So we talk about Laura Bassett - one ignominious play that follows her. But what about Jon Lester, professional baseball player? Now, he's a pitcher, pitched in the American League most of his life. Not that good at hitting. How not good? Has never gotten a hit in 73 plate appearances. Now, I know a pitcher is not supposed to hit, but this is just of a different degree. He did walk once, I should say. And he's set a record.

NEARY: All right, Mike. That's all the time we've got. Thanks so much.

PESCA: You're welcome.

NEARY: Mike Pesca. His podcast is The Gist. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.