USA vs France – The French capital hosts the final before the final to decide which heavyweight advances and which teams falls from grace.
The final before the final. Everyone expected this matchup but at the final—not as a Quarterfinal bout—but here we are. A sold out crowed filled the Parisian stadium to witness two of the best women’s footballing sides go at it in this do-or-die match.
I’d been anxiously waiting this day as soon as we heard the final whistle in the US – Spain match. To take on the French, in front of their home crowd, this late in the tournament is a true footballing treat.
So how did it all shake out?
It was another early goal for USA. One of their fastest yet. An uncanny calling card by now, the US were able to net the opening goal in the 5th minute. Early attacking pressure from the US produced a foul just outside the box, and course, it was Megan Rapinoe who stepped over the ball to take the kick. Her shot was a dipping bouncing ball that threaded through the legs of players from both sides before finding the back of the net.
Following the goal, the US didn’t relent at all in applying attacking pressure to the French. At times the Blues did well to respond, but as soon as they would commit numbers forward, USA looked to spring a deadly counter every single time, keeping the home team honest.
The French produced a few corners but did little with them. There was a bit of back-and-forth with each side, but it was the Americans who always looked more likely to score. If there was another goal in the first half, the US looked likely to be the ones who scored it.
But alas there was no other goal. The scoreline remained a solo goal lead for the US in a very tight first half.
Both sides emerged from halftime high-tempo and ready to score. In the first minutes, the US were able to apply their signature attacking pressure, creating multiple chances in a row. France responded well, starting to find their own attacking rhythm, mostly as a byproduct of their dominance in the midfield in the second half.
But despite France's majority of possession, they struggled to produce anything valuable from their attacking attempts, making it past the 60’ mark without getting a shot on goal. But the more France pushed forward, the more the US licked their lips in hopes of catching France off guard. And that’s exactly what they did in the 65th minute.
Exactly on hour from the first goal, the US launch themselves on a counter after a French turnover. Tobin Heath drove down the right flank, after Alex Morgan played a through ball, and Heath cut the ball back towards the center but rolled it behind the attacking player. However, it was the late runner who was wide open to finish off the play. That late runner: Megan Rapinoe.
At this point I don’t even know what to say about Rapinoe. She can’t stop scoring. 4 goals in 2 matches. This time it’s off her late run that givers her the shot to slot it home to earn herself a brace, launching her to top goal scorer tied with Alex Morgan.
But France did not give up. As the matched ticked towards the end, France continued to push forward more and more, pinning the Americans back. The US dropped back to a 5 man backline and tried to endure the barrage, but it was at their own peril. In the 81’, from a dead ball situation, France was finally able to find their iconic player Wendie Renard, the tallest player at the tournament, for a routine header to claw themselves back into the match.
It was a lifeline but was not enough.
The United States merely had to see the match to a close. They did it cleanly and with discipline.
Prior to the match the conversation about French centered on their ability to play without the ball. In fact, this is France’s preferred tactic the majority of the time. Jill Ellis, the American manager, came with a game plan: give France the ball and make them play with it at their feet. It worked perfectly, stumping France for the majority of the match.
The standout player for me is actually not Megan Rapinoe but instead Crystal Dunn the American LB. She was all over the field tonight. A wild woman. Unstoppable. Going forwards, tracking back, creating chances, and stopping attacks. She was electric. Her name won't appear on any scoresheet, but she was the standout tonight.
I’m so proud of these women. Win or lose today, they have played with such heart and desire. They played cleanly, no dirty challenges, and always looking to entertain. Never satisfied with where they’re at. They’ve continued to fight till the final whistle every match. Their fitness has been remarkable. This late in the tournament, and they look like they are playing on fresh legs.
I could not be prouder.