The match that everyone was anticipating for months did not disappoint.
The U.S. women's national team got two goals from Megan Rapinoe and held off a late France rally to reach the semifinals of the Women's World Cup with a 2-1 victory at the Parc des Princes in Paris. With the win, the USA knocked out the hosts and reached the semifinals for an eighth straight Women's World Cup, the only nation to achieve the feat in every edition of the competition.
France will be disappointed with the exit, especially after making a statement in January by the USA 3-1 in a friendly when the U.S. wasn't at entirely full strength. Les Bleues had won two of the last three meetings, though, and didn't appear to be spooked at all by the prospect of taking on the defending champions.
In a huge pre-game call, U.S. manager Jill Ellis opted to go with the same starting lineup that faced Spain in the round of 16–which meant leaving Lindsey Horan out and bringing Sam Mewis in. Horan, the reigning NWSL MVP who has experience playing in France after her time at PSG, was carrying a yellow card–which doesn't get wiped out until the next round–but the call was a big one considering her stature, no matter how influential and well Mewis has played thus far in the tournament. In the end, it didn't work as a detriment.
The U.S., which had scored in the opening 12 minutes in each of its four matches in the tournament thus far, looked to strike 60 seconds in. Rapinoe, the center of so much of the pre-match build-up, did well to advance the ball and lay it off for Julie Ertz. The defender-turned-midfielder let a long-range rip go, but France goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi made the clean, diving save to prevent the early goal.
The U.S. threatened a couple of minutes later, with Alex Morgan getting in behind down the left and forcing vital French center back Griedge Mbock Bathy into yellow-card-worthy foul. That foul proved costly. Rapinoe fired the free kick from the left-hand side through traffic, it went through Amandine Henry's legs and beat Bouhaddi, giving the U.S. another early goal and a 1-0 lead.
The USA kept the pressure up with France on its heels. Again, it was Rapinoe creating the danger, setting up Morgan for a chance on goal, but her rolled shot was saved easily by Bouhaddi in the 14th minute.
France appeared to be forcing the issue whenever it got on the ball, clearly dazed by the early deficit. Timing on runs down the right was a bit off, with Les Bleues whistled for a pair of offsides calls, while passes in the final third were generally sloppy and less crisp than what France has shown throughout the tournament.
France did grow into the match more after the half-hour mark, out-possessing the USA and starting to gain more of a foothold in the match. Its final-third play still left plenty to be desired, but the stretch was certainly a warning to the Americans to tighten things up while nursing the lead.
The U.S. came out firing to start the second half. On the opening sequence, Mewis forced Bouhaddi into a diving save, which should couldn't turn out of play. Tobin Heath was first to it, turning the rebound back on goal from a tight angle, and Bouhaddi got down and made the kick save to force the corner.
France had a golden chance go begging in the 58th minute. Alyssa Naeher, who didn't have much to do in the opening hour, went flailing for a cross to the back post, coming up empty. The ball fell to Eugenie Le Sommer, who tried to tuck the ball home at the near post, only to pull it wide left and into the side netting.
France continued to press, having the look of a side about to break through, and Ellis countered by bringing on fresh legs. Horan replaced Rose Lavelle in the 63rd minute, but as the sub was taking place, France looked to strike off a quick restart. The hosts nearly did, with Valerie Gauvin looping a header toward the upper left-hand corner, only for Naeher to make the leaping, diving save.
The U.S. relieved that pressure by doubling its lead a few minutes later. It came, again, from Rapinoe, who fired home from the left-hand side after a Heath cross made its way through the area. She was trying to pick out Mewis's run through the center of the box, but it took a deflection and trickled into an unmarked Rapinoe's path, and she fired home with ease and accuracy for her Golden-Boot-race tying fifth goal of the Women's World Cup, which made it 2-0 USA.
The USA could have made it 3-0 about 10 minutes later, but Heath had a goal taken off the board. Crystal Dunn, surging forward from her left back spot after spending the day trying to corral Kadidiatou Diani, was ruled offside in the buildup, but replays showed she was even with the last defender, and VAR was not consulted in the aftermath.
As France tried to slice into the deficit, Naeher was called into action again. Le Sommer was able to loop a volley toward the goal off a cross, but the U.S. goalkeeper recovered to tip it over the bar with a leaping save in the 78th minute.
France got the breakthrough it was seeking in the 81st minute. Off a free kick, Renard, a set-piece master, surged through the U.S. box and headed home the goal that made it 2-1 and set up a furious finish.
The French felt aggrieved soon after. It appeared that Kelley O'Hara handled a ball in the box–at least consistent with what's been called or reviewed by VAR throughout the tournament–but no call or review was made, and the USA saw out the match from there. No player picked up a second yellow card through the first five games, meaning the Americans will be at full strength after reaching their eighth straight Women's World Cup semifinal.
Here were the lineups for the match:
Here are the rosters for both sides:
GOALKEEPERS: Adrianna Franch (Portland Thorns), Ashlyn Harris (Orlando Pride), Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars)
DEFENDERS: Abby Dahlkemper (NC Courage), Tierna Davidson (Chicago Red Stars); Crystal Dunn (NC Courage), Ali Krieger (Orlando Pride), Kelley O'Hara (Utah Royals), Becky Sauerbrunn (Utah Royals), Emily Sonnett (Portland Thorns)
MIDFIELDERS: Morgan Brian (Chicago Red Stars), Julie Ertz (Chicago Red Stars), Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns), Rose Lavelle (Washington Spirit), Allie Long (Seattle Reign), Samantha Mewis (NC Courage)
FORWARDS: Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns); Carli Lloyd (Sky Blue FC), Jessica McDonald (NC Courage), Alex Morgan (Orlando Pride), Christen Press (Utah Royals), Mallory Pugh (Washington Spirit), Megan Rapinoe (Seattle Reign)
GOALKEEPERS: Solene Durand (Guingamp), Sarah Bouhaddi (Lyon), Pauline Peyraud-Magnin (Arsenal)
DEFENDERS: Eve Perisset (PSG), Wendie Renard (Lyon), Marion Torrent (Montpellier), Aissatou Tounkara (Atlético Madrid), Sakina Karchaoui (Montpellier), Amel Majri (Lyon), Griedge Mbock Bathy (Lyon), Julie Debever (Guingamp)
MIDFIELDERS: Amandine Henry (Lyon), Grace Geyoro (PSG), Charlotte Bilbault (Paris FCF), Elise Bussaglia (Dijon), Gaetane Thiney (Paris FCF), Maeva Clémaron (FC Fleury 91)
FORWARDS: Eugenie Le Sommer (Lyon), Kadidiatou Diani (PSG), Emelyne Laurent (Guingamp), Valerie Gauvin (Montpellier), Viviane Asseyi (Bordeaux), Delphine Cascarino (Lyon)