by Steven Goff in Paris
This was a spectacle of women’s soccer, with a capacity crowd in a famous stadium roaring as a reigning champion and an overdue contender collided in one of the most anticipated Women’s World Cup matches in history.
It lived up to its billing, and more. And when 90 exhausting minutes expired Friday, the United States remained in contention for a fourth championship by edging France, 2-1, in a riveting quarterfinal before 45,595 at Parc des Princes.
“That is the most intense match I have ever been a part of,” U.S. Coach Jill Ellis said.
At the center of it was Megan Rapinoe, whose exploits on the field are often overshadowed by outspoken views on politics, race and gender equality, most recently involving President Trump.
For the second consecutive match, Rapinoe scored two goals as the top-ranked Americans advanced to Tuesday’s semifinal against England in Lyon.
“C’est magnifique!” she said. “It’s everything you want.”
Rapinoe scored on a free kick in the fifth minute and on a shot from short distance in the 65th, triggering celebrations among an estimated 10,000 U.S. supporters. Wendie Renard answered for France in the 81st, but the Americans escaped several late threats and a possible handball call to reach the World Cup semifinals for the eighth time in as many tries.
“It’s almost like it feeds her,” Ellis said of the momentous match. “She loves and lives for those moments. She is a big-time player, and the bigger the stage, the more she is going to respond.”
Rapinoe’s contributions punctuated a glorious night for women’s soccer, which is trying to make gains in a male-dominated sport. The United States and France were the top two favorites in the tournament, but the draw had placed them in the same bracket for a likely meeting in the quarterfinals.
“I hope this will help this women’s game go further and move into that next level,” said French Coach Corinne Diacre, whose third-ranked team has lost in the quarterfinals in each of the past five major world tournaments.
Hours before kickoff, supporters of both teams gathered in the brasseries and cafes around Porte de Saint-Cloud, site of the closest Metro station to the stadium. French and U.S. flags hung from awnings and fans decked in jerseys raised a toast to the much-anticipated match.
As kickoff neared, streets leading to the venue filled with fans singing and marching with flags and traditional scarves. Among the chants: “Equal pay!” — a reference to the U.S. players’ efforts for gender equality within the U.S. Soccer Federation.
This time of year, Paris is always packed with Americans. With the U.S. soccer team in town, the numbers have swelled.
Expected guests included French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, FIFA President Gianni Infantino and famed coach Jose Mourinho.
The Americans were sharp from the start, and in the fifth minute, they went ahead.
The sequence began with a throw-in — Rapinoe’s toss down the line to Alex Morgan in stride and with a step on Griedge Mbock Bathy. The French defender prevented Morgan from breaking away, and in doing so, committed a foul and received a yellow card.
The foul occurred a few strides beyond the left side of the penalty area, a prime spot for Rapinoe to swing in the ball and create chaos.
As her teammates surged toward the target, Rapinoe drove the ball to the near side. Bodies blocked goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi’s line of vision.
Ertz made a play for the ball, distracting Bouhaddi, who had slid to her right to cover the corner. Ertz did not touch it, however. The ball then skipped between Amandine Henry’s legs and, by the time the ball approached Bouhaddi, it was too late for her to react.
Rapinoe celebrated by posing for the crowd, arms outstretched, before receiving her joyous teammates.
The goal continued a trend of early strikes: In the previous tournament matches, the United States scored in the 12th, 11th, third and seventh minutes.
For most of the half, though, France dictated terms. Conceding possession, the United States absorbed regular pressure, covering for one another, blocking shots and executing offside traps to extinguish serious chances against goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher.
The aerial battle had worried the Americans, for France employed the tallest player in the tournament, the 6-foot-2 Renard.
Renard ended up scoring, but Ellis said, “On all the other set pieces, we were fantastic.”
The Americans began the second half with a flurry of opportunities. Bouhaddi was forced to make quality saves with her left hand (on Sam Mewis) and left foot (on Tobin Heath), then survive a scramble in the six-yard box off Rapinoe’s corner kick.
To relieve pressure, the Americans needed to increase possession and take the French out of their rhythm. They couldn’t string together passes and, in the face of French pressing, struggled to escape their own end.
In the 65th minute, however, Rapinoe extended the lead.
The buildup began on the right side, Morgan leading Heath for a threatening run. Mewis made a central run, but Heath’s cross was behind her.
Just as well, perhaps, because a defender was with Mewis. No one, however, marked Rapinoe, who calmly pumped an eight-yard shot past the helpless Bouhaddi for her fifth goal of the tournament.
She also scored twice in the 2-1 victory over Spain in the round of 16.
Naeher initially kept the margin intact with a pair of quality saves, answering critics who doubted her capacity in her first major tournament as the starter.
After Heath’s goal was disallowed by an offside call, the French pulled closer. Renard broke free on Gaetane Thiney’s free kick and powered a six-yard header into the top of the net.
The French made claim for a penalty kick moments later when Amel Majri lifted a pass off Kelley O’Hara’s arm. Referee Kateryna Monzul allowed play to continue and the video assistant referee declined to intervene.
“It’s not like I made my body big or anything,” O’Hara said. “You never know because it’s a little sketchy sometimes, but thankfully they called it the right way.”
Said Diacre, the French coach: “We have had VAR go our way in the past; clearly tonight it didn’t. We shouldn’t get too hung up on it.”
The Americans repelled additional pressure and, with substitutes Carli Lloyd and Christen Press holding the ball in the attacking end, they killed the clock — and crushed France’s dreams.
When the match ended, U.S. celebrations in the stands poured into the streets.
“Our fans were amazing,” Rapinoe said. “They screamed their little hearts out.”
by Jacob Bogage in Washington
87th minute: Substitution
Christen Press enters for Megan Rapinoe.
82nd minute: Substitution
Carli Lloyd enters in the midfield for Samantha Mewis.
81st minute: Goal, France
Things just got a whole lot more competitive. French defender Wendie Renard, the tournament’s tallest player at 6-foot-2, ran through the U.S. defense on a free kick and headed the ball to the far post past Alyssa Naeher. It will likely set off even more intense waves of offense from France. The United States needs to hang on eight more minutes.
65th minute: Goal, USA
It’s Megan Rapinoe again, and it’s her fifth goal of the World Cup, tying her with teammate Alex Morgan, England’s Ellen White and Australia’s Sam Kerr for the tournament lead. Morgan chipped a ball forward in the midfield to Tobin Heath behind the French defense and Heath had both Samantha Mewis and Rapinoe in the box. Mewis let the ball go for Rapinoe, who had a wide open net to shoot at, and did not miss.
It’s a whirlwind switch of momentum in what fans are calling “Le Gran Match.” France had poured on the offensive pressure and had the American defense reeling. But the United States repelled each challenge and struck on the counterattack for an important insurance goal.
Rapinoe has scored the past four goals for her team over the last two do-or-die matches.
63rd minute: Substitution
Lindsey Horan enters in the midfield for Rose Lavelle.
61st minute: French increase pressure
France spent the first half running its offense through Kadidiatou Diani against American defender Crystal Dunn. In the second, Les Bleus have looked to Eugenie Le Sommer against Kelley O’Hara. Frankly, both tactics have been successful. Diani’s speed and power have overwhelmed Dunn at times. O’Hara has been caught too high at times and too narrow at others trying to support the American offense.
But though the French have held 59 percent of possession and have more shots (12-9) and more corner kicks (4-3) than the U.S., they have yet to put a shot on net.
46th minute: Near miss for Americans
It’s another great start to a half for the United States. Samantha Mewis drove toward the 18-yard box and smacked a shot that required a sprawling save from Bouhaddi, then Tobin Heath tried to deposit the rebound, and Bouhaddi threw a foot to that shot, as well. The sequence earned a U.S. corner, and Alex Morgan had a decent look at the net that was blocked in front.
Halftime: USA 1, France 0
The United States is 45 minutes from fending off a significant challenge to its quest to defend its World Cup title. Through one half, the American side was organized, exact and spirited, and leads France, 1-0.
The score came almost immediately on a free kick from Megan Rapinoe. After a French defender dragged down Alex Morgan for a yellow card on the left flank of the attacking box, Rapinoe took the kick and swept a low, hard ball through the box. French keeper Sarah Bouhaddi lost the ball in traffic in front of her and it passed cleanly into the net to give the U.S. an early advantage.
France responded almost immediately with a number of offensive forays, holding possession and asking questions of the American defenders. But the back four of Kelley O’Hara, Becky Sauerbrunn, Abby Dahlkemper and Crystal Dunn were equal to the task, and midfielders Julie Ertz, Rose Lavelle and Samantha Mewis did well to clean up loose balls. France has controlled 56 percent of possession and has launched six attempts on goal.
It’s still by far the soundest the American defensive unit has looked so far in the tournament. After some creaky moments against Sweden and nearly disaster against Spain, the Yankees seem comfortable enough in their own end, secure that at the very beginning, they already put the host nation on its heels. Now they have to survive another 45 minutes.
29th minute: Medical attention for Alex Morgan
The American forward and co-captain won a header for a clearance, but went down and needed attention from her team’s sports medicine staff moments later. It’s unclear what was bothering Morgan, who has not scored since her record-tying five goals in the tournament opener vs. Thailand and has not appeared to be at full strength in more recent matches. While she was being treated Thursday, the referee ordered the match’s first mandatory hydration break. Morgan remained in the game.
A telling statistic
21st minute: U.S. pushes forward
The United States is flooring the tempo thanks to a great start from its back four. Save for a few swift moves on the wings, the American defenders have done well to keep French attacks outside the 18-yard box and the midfielders have been active dropping back to deal with any headers. Those clearances have sprung Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan out on counterattacks. The U.S. only has three shot attempts, but all of them have been on target.
5th minute: Goal, USA
It’s a dream start for the United States. After a promising scoring chance in the first minute, Megan Rapinoe scored on a free kick in the fifth.
Alex Morgan went to track down a through ball and was held by French defender Griedge Mbock Bathy, a challenge the earned a yellow card. Rapinoe took the free kick and sent a low, hard ball through the box. The chaos in front confused keeper Sarah Bouhaddi and the ball passed into the net untouched to give the Americans an early 1-0 lead. The U.S. has scored in the first 12 minutes of each of its five matches in the tournament.
1st minute: A fast start
Only one minute in, and the Americans have created an early chance. Megan Rapinoe wove from the left flank to the middle of the 18-yard box and left a ball for Julie Ertz to run up to. Her shot back to the left forced a sliding stop from French keeper Sarah Bouhaddi. It’s a start U.S. Coach Jill Ellis will be pleased with.
And we’re off!
It’s another hot, steamy day in Paris. A heat wave has swept through Europe and it’s clearly affected the playing conditions in recent days. An Italian striker left a match this week after suffering from heat stroke and referees have had to consult the weather to choose whether to impose mandatory cooling and water breaks.
The match is at 9 p.m. local time, which helps somewhat. The temperature in Paris is 86 degrees.
For a third straight day, a ferocious heat wave is baking large parts of Europe, and the exceptionally high temperatures are making history. On Friday, the town of Gallargues-le-Montueux in southern France hit 114.6 degrees (45.9 Celsius), the hottest temperature ever recorded in the country.
The heat was so intense that, for the first time since initiating its heat warning system (after the 2003 heat wave), Météo-France declared a red alert, the highest level, for the southeast part of the country Friday.
American fans send a message
It’s not just that American fans are numerous enough in Paris to stop traffic on their way to the match — it’s the message they’re sending while doing it. “Equal pay!” some chanted in support of the players’ lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation alleging gender-based pay discrimination. Click here to read and see some of the scene in the streets.
Ellis runs back starting 11
Coach Jill Ellis made no changes to the starting lineup that was used in the round of 16 vs. Spain. That means Samantha Mewis is again the choice over Lindsey Horan in midfield. Whether Ellis goes to the bench sooner on Thursday will be worth watching after she came under some fire for her substitution patterns vs. La Roja.
Americans on parade in Paris
There’s definitely an American fan presence on the way to Parc des Princes
It’s a quarterfinal, not the final, but few international women’s team sports events have generated such buzz as the faceoff between the reigning Americans and the fast-rising French. (Read more)
The Americans still will have their hands full Friday with a team that hasn’t lost an international match since February. Here’s a look at the French players who could give them trouble. (Read more)
Jerry Brewer writes that it’s hard to keep count of all the polarizing ways that people describe Rapinoe: Star and pariah, exuberant and excessive, a necessary voice and an irreverent troublemaker. “But you will pay attention to her, and if you’re not too busy listening to your own voice, perhaps you will learn something.” (Read more)
The social activism of many players has become a major subplot of the tournament. Broadcasters and advertisers have taken notice, spreading those messages to a growing global audience that experiences the event mostly through television. (Read more)
The video replay system, which is being used at the Women’s World Cup for the first time, has been at the center of controversy in several matches. And though it has greatly reduced egregious errors, more subjective rulings, as well as the time spent on reviews, are areas of concern. (Read more)