Megan Rapinoe stole the headlines again as 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 late on for France to set up a tense finish.
Jill Ellis’s team held on and they 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.
“This is so special to beat the host nation in the Parc des Princes. You can’t ask for any more than this,” said Rapinoe.
The pink-haired Rapinoe has been crucial on the field in this run, while dominating headlines off it thanks to her spat with President Donald Trump over her refusal to attend any post-tournament reception at the White House.
The 33-year-old had already scored twice in the win over Spain in the last round. Here, she took her tally for the tournament to five goals on the occasion of her 157th cap.
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.”
Nevertheless, that will be scant consolation for them. They were the only team to defeat the USA in the two years leading up to the World Cup and they did not really do themselves justice 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 it to 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.
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 on a sweltering Parisian evening was a disaster.
Alex Morgan was fouled by Griedge Mbock outside the area to the USA left, and Rapinoe’s low delivery went in without taking a touch, passing through the legs of France skipper Amandine Henry en route.
The home side then had lots of the ball but rarely really troubled USA goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher.
Their opponents had not created much either, although they made their intent clear right at the start of the second half as a Samantha Mewis strike drew a fine save from Sarah Bouhaddi, who then did well to keep out Heath’s follow-up.
The second goal arrived in the 65th minute, with Morgan and Heath combining 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 they reduced the deficit nine minutes from time, Renard evading her marker to head in Gaetane Thiney’s flighted free-kick for her fourth goal of the tournament. But the USA saw out the victory.