Megan Rapinoe admitted it had been an unforgettable night after her brace took the United States through to the semi-finals of the women’s World Cup on Friday, the holders beating France 2-1 in Paris to puncture the hopes of the host nation.
Rapinoe’s free-kick five minutes into this quarter-final evaded a sea of bodies in the box on its way into the net to stun the home crowd at the Parc des Princes.
The USA then soaked up pressure before delivering the knockout blow midway through the second half when Rapinoe turned in Tobin Heath’s centre, although Wendie Renard pulled a goal back for France to set up a tense finish.
Jill Ellis’s team held on and go through to a semi-final against England in Lyon next Tuesday as they seek to retain their crown and win a fourth World Cup in eight editions.
“We didn’t have the best night on the ball but the focus defensively, and the willingness and the discipline to do what we did tonight is tremendous,” said the 33-year-old Rapinoe. “We were ruthless with our chances, so moving on to the next round, that’s really all that matters. It’s a game that we’ll never forget here in Paris.”
The pink-haired Rapinoe has been crucial on the field in this tournament, while dominating headlines off it thanks to her spat with US President Donald Trump over her refusal to attend any post-tournament reception at the White House.
She had already scored twice in the win over Spain in the last round and is now the joint top scorer at the tournament with five goals.
Meanwhile, France will leave their own tournament with more than a few regrets.
Ellis praised the hosts, saying: “That’s a fantastic team we played tonight, and that is the most intense match I have ever been a part of.”
That will be scant consolation for the French. They were the only team to defeat the USA in the two years leading up to the World Cup but they could not repeat the feat here before an expectant crowd.
Coach Corinne Diacre had been set the target of going all the way to the final on home soil, yet that always looked a tall order from the moment the draw was made last December and they were set on a quarter-final collision course with the best team in the world.
“It’s a failure in a footballing sense, we can’t hide from that. We are far from fulfilling our objective,” said Diacre. “I hope we at least won people’s hearts tonight and since the start of the tournament.”
Only once before had they even made the semi-finals, and for the second World Cup running their adventure ends in the last eight, the same stage at which they went out of the 2016 Olympics and the last three European Championships.
Having started this tournament with a first-half blitz against South Korea in the opening game, Les Bleues never really reached the same heights again. Their defeat also means they will not go to the 2020 Olympics.
The country’s leading sports daily L’Equipe had called this “the challenge of a lifetime”, and in that context conceding the opening goal so early was a disaster.
Alex Morgan was fouled outside the area to the USA left, and Rapinoe’s low delivery went in without taking a touch.
While France had lots of the ball without creating many clear chances, Samantha Mewis and Heath both tested France goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi just after half-time, and the USA’s second goal arrived in the 65th minute.
Morgan and Heath combined down the right before the latter’s ball across goal was turned in by Rapinoe.
France did not give up and set up a frenzied finale as Renard evaded her marker to head in Gaetane Thiney’s flighted free-kick nine minutes from time for her fourth goal of the tournament. But the USA saw out the victory.
The other quarter-finals will be played on Saturday, with the Netherlands meeting Italy in Valenciennes before Germany take on Sweden in Rennes.