Sunday 18 August 2019

Resilient Rapinoe fires US to England semi-final showdown

USA 2 France 1

United States’ forward Megan Rapinoe celebrates after scoring the first of her two goals in last night’s quarter-final against France. Photo: AFP/Getty
United States’ forward Megan Rapinoe celebrates after scoring the first of her two goals in last night’s quarter-final against France. Photo: AFP/Getty
Wendie Renard of France scores her team's goal. Photo: Getty
Megan Rapinoe of the USA scores her team's second goal. Photo: Getty

Luke Edwards

Megan Rapinoe began the week upsetting a president and ended it by crushing an entire nation as she scored twice to dump France out of their own World Cup.

The French will not take it well, they have not really embraced this tournament outside of supporting Les Bleues and now they must watch other European nations try to defy the United States' pursuit of a second successive World Cup.

That unenviable task will fall to England first. The special relationship is about to turn a little sour in the build up to that semi-final in Lyon. The US will not care. They are big and strong and utterly ruthless. They would love to crush England's hopes and dreams as cruelly as they did to France.

This was women's football, but mainly it was just football. There is no need to distinguish or discriminate. It was a magnificent match, an event, the sort intoxicating sporting occasion that lingers long in body and mind.

Host nation versus strongest -nation, French finesse and flair pitched against American athleticism and power.

These games can so often fizzle out, but as soon as the US took the lead, the game was lit.

It was a soft goal to concede, Rapinoe, scourge of Donald Trump, played percentages, firing in a vicious free-kick into the near post.

The bounce was spiteful, the ball spitting off the turf, too quick for Julie Ertz's flick, flying through the legs of Amandine Henry and beyond goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi.

Rapinoe accepted the acclaim. As the US fans celebrated, thousands of them spread all over the stadium, she stood and posed for the camera - and the president she riled so much this week when she revealed she would refuse to visit a White House with him sitting in it.

France were rocked, they had left their chin open and the Americans had landed a full power punch. All those stereotypes, all those cliches, all those jibes about them only playing well when things go their way, all those jokes about surrendering under pressure. This was a test of character now.

Back they came. Every attack, every tackle, every pass, every bit of skill sparked applause. The home crowd willed them to score. The US defence retreated but held the line. Wave after wave of attacks repelled.


France built pressure again. The noise grew louder, Eugenie Le Sommer firing into the side-netting with goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher grounded. It was a bad miss. The US looked exhausted, but then they pounced, Rapinoe left unattended as Tobin Heath's cross evaded everyone and she finished with the composure Le Sommer lacked.

France had done all the running, all the attacking, but were heading out.

Wendie Renard pulled one back with a header. It set up the sort of tense, stomach-tumbling finale the contest deserved, the US fortunate not to concede a penalty when Gaetane Thiney's cross smashed into the arm of Kelley O'Hara.

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