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Rapinoe, USA Emerge From France Circus on Doubly Brutal Day for World Cup Hosts

The match lived up to the expectations. An intense, physical battle went the USA's way, with ringmaster Megan Rapinoe conducting the circus she craved with two decisive goals, leading the Americans to the semifinals and dumping the Women's World Cup hosts out of the competition.

It certainly lived up to the hype.

Megan Rapinoe put a stamp on a total “s—tshow circus” of a week by scoring two goals to lead the U.S. women's national team to a thrilling 2-1 win over France in the Women's World Cup quarterfinals on Friday. Now, the host country and co-favorite to win it all is out of the tournament.

This was the matchup everybody was anticipating well before the Women's World Cup even started, dating back to the December draw in which it became a possibility. Two global women’s soccer powers, the defending champions versus the host nation, facing off in Paris in a sold-out Parc des Princes. It was billed as the final before the final, and it had all the intensity, physicality, and feistiness that all viewers wanted. Now, it’s over and Les Bleues will go home, while the U.S. advances to its eighth straight Women's World Cup semifinal on Tuesday against England.

“We hit them where it hurt,” Rapinoe said on the FOX broadcast after the game. “We took our chances. This team [has] an unreal amount of heart.”

Here are three thoughts from the Americans’ dramatic win in Paris:

Rapinoe rises to the occasion

There was really no other way for Rapinoe’s week to end, was there? After proclaiming that USA-France would be a “s—tshow circus,” going viral for saying “I’m not going to the f—cking White House” if the U.S. won the Women's World Cup, proceeding to get called out by President Donald Trump in a tweet and then backing up her comments, of course that meant she was going to score some goals against France, right?

In Friday’s quarterfinal, Rapinoe was a purple-haired hero, scoring in the fifth and 65th minutes to give the U.S. the edge over France. Her first goal game after Alex Morgan drew a foul just outside the box in the fourth minute to set up a free kick. Rapinoe, the Americans’ designated set-piece taker, lined up and curled a low shot through traffic in the box that got through Amandine Henry's legs and past French goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi. Her second came after Morgan slotted a perfect ball to Tobin Heath down the right side, where she made a pass that was intended for Sam Mewis. It was deflected and ended up bouncing just in front of Rapinoe, who finished with power to score the eventual game-winning goal. She celebrated both goals by striking a power pose.

The weird thing about Rapinoe’s week was that her White House comments were made back in January. But Eight by Eight magazine published the video this week instead of five months ago and it caught fire–and Trump’s attention. U.S. players were asked if it would be a distraction heading into the biggest game of the World Cup, but clearly it wasn’t.

Now we’ll have to wait and see what Rapinoe will do for her next trick as the U.S. prepares to face England in the semifinal on Tuesday.

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Dunn won the decisive battles

Crystal Dunn is an attacker by nature. She played forward in college and does so currently with her NWSL team the North Carolina Courage. But for the USWNT, she starts at left back, where, on Friday, she drew the assignment of defending one of the world’s best wingers in France’s Kadidiatou Diani.

There were questions about this particular matchup. Diani’s size, skill and speed down the right side would test Dunn, who is not exactly a veteran in this particular position despite being Jill Ellis’s most versatile player. Diani likes to create plays by whizzing past defenders and getting balls into Eugenie Le Sommer near the box. She can be a lethal finisher too, scoring two goals in a 3-1 win over the U.S. in a January friendly—though Dunn played in the midfield that game while Diani was marked by a combination of Tierna Davidson and Emily Fox.

On Friday though, Dunn was brilliant. She contained Diani, held good positioning throughout the full 90-plus minutes, deflected crosses and won one-on-one duels. Even if she got beaten, she’d battled long enough for her defense to get back and help.

Maybe this ends those questions about the U.S. back line being a weakness? Rapinoe thinks so.

“Ridiculous,” Rapinoe said on the FOX broadcast after the game, describing the U.S. defense. “They haven’t played that well, I don’t think, ever as a group. They stepped up huge.”


A brutal loss for more reasons than one for France

France is finished–and get this: not only has the host country been ousted from its World Cup, but with the quarterfinal loss, France will not qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. That’s because per UEFA rules, only the top three European countries who performed at the Women's World Cup can qualify. That's the process. England, which will go as part of Team Great Britian, and the two winners from Saturday’s quarterfinal matches between Germany-Sweden and Italy-Netherlands will all qualify. Given France's talent and all-around quality, that's a brutal pill to swallow once the reality of missing out on World Cup glory on home soil starts to subside. France won't play in another official competition until Euro 2021 (provided it gets through a group with Austria, Serbia, Kazakhstan and North Macedonia), meaning it won't get the chance to get beyond the quarterfinal stage of a major tournament–something that has repeatedly been the downfall for a talent-laden side–for at least two years.

Europe was lauded—as it should be—for its success in this World Cup. Eight countries made it to the round of 16, with seven advancing to the quarterfinal. Three are guaranteed to make the semifinals and at least one will play in the final. That accomplishment somehow hurts some of the best teams (like France) moving forward. There needs to be a better method for Olympic qualification.