SportsPulse: After a Twitter tirade from the president and the USWNT facing its biggest test of the World Cup, Megan Rapinoe and company had a performance for the ages.
LYON, France — Get over it.
The U.S. women cannot take a few days to revel in their epic victory over France. They can’t spend any more time savoring being part of a raucous, electric atmosphere so rarely seen in the women’s game.
Not if they want to win this World Cup, anyway.
As momentous as Friday night’s game against France was – most-watched quarterfinal in the United States, more than half of French viewers tuned in – it wasn’t THE game. Have a letdown Tuesday against England, and that win over France becomes, maybe not meaningless, but pretty darn close to it.
They don’t give trophies for quarterfinal wins and, for the U.S. women, nothing less than a trophy will do.
“It started in the huddle at the end,” coach Jill Ellis said after the 2-1 win over France. “As much as we were celebrating this win, I reminded them, we’re just getting warmed up. We’re on a mission.”
Defender Kelley O’Hara (5) and forward Tobin Heath (17) celebrate after the USA took a 2-0 lead over France in the quarterfinals. The USWNT beat the host nation 2-1. (Photo: Michael Chow, USA TODAY Sports)
Despite it “only” being a quarterfinal, the U.S.-France matchup had been widely anticipated since the draw was done in December. It was the world’s best team vs. the World Cup host, a country that lives and dies for its men’s team and is just now starting to do the same for its women’s squad.
The match became even more intriguing when France beat the Americans in a January exhibition. It’s the U.S. women’s only loss in their last 43 games, and it snapped a 28-game unbeaten streak.
The hype only grew throughout the tournament, and 24 hours before the game, tickets were going for as much as $1,900. A soccer apparel store near Parc des Princes that only had Paris Saint-Germain goods three weeks ago was now selling “Allez Les Bleues!” T-shirts and scarves commemorating the match.
And when the French fans, who made up probably two-thirds of the crowd of almost 46,000, belted out “La Marsellaise,” It was impossible not to feel chills.
“Ce’st magnifique, ce soir,” Megan Rapinoe, who capped off a week in which she was the subject of one of President Donald Trump’s Twitter rants by scoring two goals, said afterward. “It’s everything you want.”
Except it’s not what the Americans really want.
The U.S. women are trying to win consecutive World Cup titles for the first time in the illustrious program’s history. It also would give them four titles, tying them with Germany and Italy’s men’s teams and leaving them one shy of Brazil’s men’s team.
The men have had 60 more years to gather the hardware, by the way, playing their first World Cup in 1930. The women’s tournament didn’t begin until 1991.
But getting past France by no means assures the Americans of the title. Or even the chance to play for it.
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England is the No. 3 team in the world, one spot ahead of France. And unlike the U.S., which struggled against Spain and needed a stellar performance from goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher and its defense in the second half against France, England has looked stronger with every game it plays.
It has conceded only one goal, that came back in the opener. It was ruthlessly efficient in its quarterfinal victory over Norway, a 3-0 win that wasn’t even as close as the score indicated. Ellen White has scored four goals in the last three games, and Lucy Bronze is having as good a World Cup as anyone.
Lose any focus, or come out with any less fire, and England will make the Americans pay.
England also has an extra day of rest, having played its quarterfinal Thursday. That’s no small thing with France in the midst of a heat wave that sends temperatures soaring into the 90s each day.
“It is really mentally, emotionally and physically draining, this tournament,” said Ali Krieger, who is playing in her third World Cup. “You have to take a step back, take a break. Put your phones away. Say hi to your families quick and then get back to refreshing and recovering and getting your body back to 100 percent for three days from now.
“It’s tough, but luckily we’re immune to that,” she added. “We’re very, very good at that.”
They’re going to have to be. Celebrate the France win too much, and the U.S. women won’t be celebrating any others at this World Cup.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.