The United States scraped by Spain in the round of 16 at the World Cup, holding out against some rough fouls, lengthy waits on VAR calls, and their own inability to finish. A 2-1 win, with both goals coming from penalties, isn’t exactly a vote of confidence ahead of a quarterfinal matchup against France, but that’s just been the trend for the big powers in this tournament as they one by one showed their weaknesses. France was exposed earlier by games against Norway and Nigeria, but the United States eventually got their turn as they got picked apart here and there by Spain.
But both tournament favorites are through, and are now meeting up early, due to meet each other on June 28 in Paris. No one, from Megan Rapinoe to Alex Morgan to Jill Ellis, flinched away from the possibility when asked about meeting the host nation this early in the tournament.
Rapinoe’s face instantly stretched into a gleeful smile when the question came up in the mixed zone. “Hopefully a complete spectacle,” she said, describing her ideal atmosphere. “Just an absolute media circus. 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.”
Pinoe didn’t even pause as she jumped headfirst into her denouement, announcing, “I hope it’s just a total shitshow circus. It’s gonna be totally awesome. I think this is what everybody wants and these are the biggest games that you dream about as a kid.”
She also didn’t think playing in the sticky 90-degree weather in Reims would have much of an impact on the US’ physical recovery. “It was hot,” she said, “But I mean, this is like 30 degrees cooler than any NWSL game we ever play in for like five months straight, so I think the heat wasn’t too much of a factor for us today.”
Jill Ellis was slightly more circumspect about her hopes for a USA-France meetup. “I might not be as colorful as that,” she said when told about Rapinoe’s pardon-my-French moment from the mixed zone. “So many times when we play in big games, it’s actually where I get more excited,” she said, “So when we have our pregame meetings, it’s more, because it means more, it matters more, there’s more at stake and that’s why you do this. So I think you don’t go into one, professional sports, or two, coaching if you’re not in it for those purposes.”
“This was a tricky game,” she said, “Probably the hardest game in the 16 round. So for me I think it was good. I think it actually has energized our players. Again, it’s all kind of how you look at things. If the glass is half empty, maybe you look at it differently, but I’m half full and I’m like, holy shit that was awesome and let’s move on because the players are in a really good place. For sure this is the game, you want this game.”
Ellis also referenced France being just as ready to face the United States, invoking her counterpart, head coach Corinne Diacre. “I’m sure a lot of people want it later in the tournament, but it is what it is, so I think probably myself and Corinne are both like, we’ve got good players, good teams, good setup, and let’s go for it.”
Alex Morgan was matter-of-fact in her assessment of the matchup to come. “They played 120 minutes, which is 30 more than us,” she said of France’s R16 bout with Brazil. “And they get an extra day of rest. But you’ve seen that they’ve struggled at times. And so we’re going to have to look at that and pick apart the weaknesses that they showed and capitalize on those.”
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that neither the players nor the coach would show any apprehension, at least not in front of the press. Rose Lavelle might have summed it up pretty neatly when she was asked about potentially avoiding France after the United States had just beaten Sweden in group. “I think if you’re scared to play in a Women’s World Cup you honestly don’t deserve to win it,” she said.