Photo Credit: Bernadett Szabo/ReutersSoccer 

USA-France could be biggest World Cup Spectacle since ’99

Megan Rapinoe didn’t get to this point by being reserved.

Before Rapinoe became a White House-hold name for her comments on a possible trip to our nation’s capital if the United States Women’s National Soccer Team wins the World Cup, before U.S. President Donald Trump derided the forward for her refusal to sing the national anthem before games, the uninhibited superstar was looking forward to Friday’s quarterfinal match against France.

“Hopefully a complete spectacle. Just an absolute media circus,” were her expectations about the Parisian clash with the World Cup’s host country. “I hope it’s huge and crazy. That’s what it should be. This is the best game, this is what everybody wanted. I think we want it. Seems like they’re up for it. [The media] of course are up for it, and all the fans. Maybe it’ll be a pretty even split between the fans in the stadium. We’ve been traveling pretty deep in this World Cup.”

If anyone’s up for a circus atmosphere it’s Rapinoe, an aggressive, energetic player who is one of the tournament’s leading point-getters. She helps lead a United States team that has never failed to reach the semifinals of a World Cup but is arguably facing its biggest quarterfinal challenge yet: an undefeated France team on its home soil, win or go home. 

All 48,583 seats in Le Parc des Princes have been sold. The average resale price on StubHub was $335 on Thursday afternoon, according to ESPN. Some are calling it the biggest game in women’s soccer history. It could certainly be the biggest since the 1999 Cup Final. 

The United States entered the tournament as the top-ranked team in the FIFA World Rankings; France was fourth. The Americans have allowed one goal in four games; France has surrendered just two. Ten of the 25 players who have scored multiple goals in this Women’s World Cup wear a U.S. or French uniform. The teams have combined to score 22% of the goals in the entire competition. 

A French reporter, in an apparent attempt at a joke, asked U.S. midfielder Tobin Heath to “just let us win” during Wednesday’s press conference. Unprofessionalism notwithstanding, Les Bleus have the artillery to win the match without any help. Wendie Renard is two goals behind Alex Morgan in the goal-scoring race, Eugénie Le Sommer has the third most career international goals of any woman whose team is still alive and Amandine Henry has scored two goals in the 85th minute or later, including the winner over Brazil in the Round of 16.

Expectations are high and they’re never coming down. “If you think #USA vs. #FRA will be just another soccer game, think again. A game for the ages,” the U.S. Soccer WNT account tweeted on Wednesday. Coach Jill Ellis has been a lightning rod for most of her tenure, but she still skipped normal coachspeak and cliches to tell reporters, “Some teams visit pressure but we live there.” 

There is no fear of consequence in the American camp right now- they thoroughly expect to win. 

Calling Friday’s match the biggest in women’s football history is an overreaction; it doesn’t have the non-manufactured cache of a final, it won’t be as groundbreaking for the sport as the 1999 Final and there is no guarantee the action will live up to the massive hype. But the best team in the world striving to retain that title in an away game against an evenly-matched squad is about as intriguing a storyline as they come.

Every touch, every free kick and every tackle will be magnified. The nation will either be watching or attending, as it has in record-breaking numbers all month. 

In the words of late national team coach Tony DiCicco, “To some, challenges are exhausting. To others, they are opportunities in waiting.” These teams have waited long enough. 

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