PARIS — It wasn’t just the fans who were looking forward to a quarterfinal clash between France and the defending champion United States at the Women’s World Cup. Megan Rapinoe clearly was, too.
“I hope it’s huge and crazy. That’s what it should be,” Rapinoe said just after the match was set. “This is the best game, this is what everybody wanted. I think we wanted it, seems like they’re up for it, you guys are of course are up for it, and all the fans.”
While the players said the focus for the United States was always on one game at a time, Rapinoe voiced the underlying truth about the match in Paris on Friday: It was circled on everyone’s World Cup calendar since December’s draw.
“It’s going to be totally awesome. This is what everybody wants. And these are the biggest games that you kind of dream about as a kid,” the Redding native said.
The U.S. advanced with a physically challenging win over Spain in the round of 16, while France scored in extra time to get past resilient Brazil.
Photo: Alessandra Tarantino / Associated Press
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The top-ranked U.S. breezed through its group stage at the World Cup, but Spain posed a challenge to the three-time champions Monday, relentlessly targeting Alex Morgan and using brawn to counter the Americans’ superior speed.
Rapinoe scored on a pair of penalty kicks for the 2-1 victory in Reims.
Players said the difficult match was crucial to the team’s preparation going into the quarterfinal against the fourth-ranked French, the first time the U.S. has faced the host in a World Cup. The Americans could also face No. 3 England if they go through to the semifinals.
“I think this game was extremely important to us, looking forward to France,” said Morgan, a Cal alum. “It was a very challenging game and it showed a little bit of what we might see in France, so this was an important stepping stone for us looking forward.”
France also got a tough test out of the way.
Les Bleues finished atop their group with three wins before surviving their knockout opener against Brazil. Captain Amandine Henry redirected Amel Majri’s free kick for a tiebreaking goal in the 107th minute of a 2-1 win Sunday in Le Havre.
Friday’s match at Parc des Princes in Paris, while great for the sport, also means one of the favorites will be headed home.
U.S. coach Jill Ellis acknowledged the final-in-the-quarterfinals feel to Friday’s match.
“I truly believe this is the world game for women, and so what a showcase piece. I’m sure a lot of people would like it later in the tournament, but it is what it is,” Ellis said. “Myself and probably Corinne (Diacre, France’s coach) are both like, ‘We’ve got good players, good teams and good setups, so let’s go for it.’”
Anne M. Peterson is an Associated Press writer.
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