USWNT relishing opportunity to bolster legacy in World Cup clash vs France

BY Martin Rogers -- @mrogersFOX • June 25, 2019

REIMS, France – What most people view as the United States’ biggest obstacle threatening its defense of the Women’s World Cup title, Megan Rapinoe sees as an opportunity to grasp a slice of history with a spectacular twist.

“I am a hag for the dramatic,” Rapinoe, whose career has encapsulated some of the U.S. team’s most iconic memories, told me. “We will try to produce something incredibly heroic and get everyone on board.”

Rapinoe’s pair of penalty kick goals on Monday against Spain set up what is, quite simply, the match of the tournament. Ever since the draw was made last December, the mouthwatering possibility of a quarterfinal battle between host nation France, and the Americans, has captured attention.

Now it is upon us, set for Paris’ Parc des Princes on Friday (2 p.m. ET on FOX), a clash between what is widely considered the two best teams in the tournament.

For France, it offers the chance to move a step closer to becoming the first nation to hold the men’s and women’s World Cups simultaneously.

For the U.S., however, the possibility of adding a layer to their legacy awaits. Despite the program’s historic success, with three World Cup titles in the books, the American women have never defeated a host nation on their own soil. Rare is it that the national team goes into a game where it is not a clear and overwhelming favorite. This is one of those times.

“Absolutely,” said Alex Morgan, when asked if beating France could seal a special place for this current team in national team history. “We are looking to make it all the way. Our next challenge is France. We have been watching all the games of the World Cup, not only theirs, but especially theirs.

“We feel really good and confident. When we are playing our best, we are the best team in this tournament.”

Some members of the squad are bigger soccer historians than others. After Spain was dispatched 2-1 in the round of 16, Tobin Heath admitted she didn’t know the team had never beaten a World Cup host, but immediately started relishing the prospect of it.

“I didn’t know that,” Heath said. “That’s cool. For us, it is going to be extremely special and we want to play these teams. It is exciting.”

France is one of the most developed technical teams that women’s soccer has ever seen, with immense creativity and outstanding ball movement. The U.S. has a slew of gifted players, too, and is a group with extraordinary determination and unrivaled physicality and stamina.

Everything points to a tight game, possibly a classic. The U.S. has played better to this point, but the French will have an extra day of rest. France will have a loud home crowd behind it, the U.S. is battle-hardened in the biggest moments of all.

Rapinoe is no stranger to pivotal games for the U.S. program. An Olympic and world champion, it was her cross in 2011 that set up Abby Wambach’s famous equalizing quarterfinal goal against Brazil. While the Americans ultimately fell to Japan in the final, that 2011 team’s run sparked a fresh flurry of interest in women’s soccer back home.

France is still awaiting its breakthrough triumph, but while the U.S. is still top dog, it is also aware that the competition from around the world is growing rapidly.

“Hope they feel the pressure,” Rapinoe said of France, aware that expectations of the home side are increasing by the day as the French summer heats up. “Welcome to the club of feeling pressure all the time and dealing with that. For us, this is the best game. This is what you want. You want the biggest teams. You want the most eyes on it, the most media. You want it all.

“They have a whole nation and a whole stadium behind them. For us, we want every game. We want every game against every big team and hopefully we get to the end and we have knocked them all off.”

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