Hosts France take on holders and favourites USA in the 2019 Women’s World Cup quarter-finals on Friday.
Les Bleues overcame an arduous battle against Brazil in the round-of-16, seeing off their South American adversaries in a 2-1 extra-time win.
Things weren’t much easier for USWNT, who had to see off a physical examination from a robust Spain side to win by the same scoreline in normal time.
Read on for Squawka’s preview of what is the most hotly-anticipated clash of the 2019 Women’s World Cup so far.
When is France v USA?
Competition: 2019 Fifa Women’s World Cup
Venue: Parc des Princes, Paris
Date: Friday, 28 June
Kick-off: 20:00 BST
Where can I watch live?
UK residents will be able to watch the Fifa Women’s World Cup quarter-final match between France and the USA on BBC Four and BBC’s iPlayer service.
Temperatures in the French pressure cooker are rising, both literally and metaphorically. A heatwave fuelled by a Saharan wind is set to hit the Women’s World Cup, while on Friday, the game of the tournament so far sees the hosts take on 2015 winners and pre-tournament favourites, USA.
USWNT breezed through the group stages, scoring 18 goals and keeping three clean sheets as they gained maximum points. Their first knockout round match against Spain, however, posed a much tougher task, with Jill Ellis’ side being pushed all the way in what turned out to be a battle of style versus substance.
In France, though, the three-time world champions will face what is undoubtedly their biggest test yet, and possibly the tournament as a whole, if they are to go all the way. Just like the USA, France also blitzed Asian opposition in the opening game, beating South Korea 4-0, before notching an impressive 2-1 win over Norway and making it maximum points in their group with a rather fortunate 1-0 win over Nigeria.
Their round-of-16 match against Brazil would always be a tough encounter with the likes of Formiga and Marta looking to show – maybe for the last time – what the South Americans are capable of on the world stage. Goals from Valerie Gauvin and captain Amandine Henry were enough to seal a 2-1 extra time-win, although Brazil certainly had enough chances to go through themselves.
Friday’s clash has all the makings of a classic and Ellis herself is expecting a “crazy” affair: “It’s going to be an amazing game. I’m sure a lot of people would want it later in the tournament.
“It’s probably going to be crazy with a lot of intensity, but that’s as it should be because I truly think this is the world game for women, so what a showcase piece.”
Did Spain reveal USWNT’s biggest flaw?
Despite being massive pre-match favourites to breeze past Spain, USA’s round-of-16 clash was anything but a cakewalk. The Spanish committed 18 fouls during the match, the fifth-highest number of any team in a single match in France so far, with Jennifer Hermoso capitalising on a defensive mix-up to make it 1-1 after just nine minutes. USWNT only made it through thanks to two Megan Rapinoe penalties and looked far from themselves.
Former USWNT goalkeeper and candid BBC pundit Hope Solo believes Spain revealed a chink in the US armour during the clash, and has suggested that France need to press the backline in search of a mistake, if they are to succeed.
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“When you have that much attacking prowess, to not get a goal in normal play is concerning,” she told BBC Radio 5 Live.
“People don’t bow down to the United States like they used to. They don’t come in and put everyone on edge like they used to.
“Many teams have proved they can beat the USA. If you want to beat the USA you have to press the backline.
“That’s where they are truly vulnerable. It’s the decision-making, it’s the quality of passing – and I think there are nerves back there.”
Wendie Renard v Alex Morgan
Quite incredibly, Wendie Renard has won all 15 of her aerial duels so far at this tournament and a freak own goal in their second game aside, has been an absolute rock for France. Her task against the USA will be a simple one: keep Alex Morgan under lock and key.
No USWNT player has been fouled more than Morgan (6) so far at France 2019 and although she bagged a remarkable five goals in their 13-0 opening win over Thailand, things have totally dried up for her since then.
That said, the 29-year-old has 106 goals in 166 international caps to date and after scoring just once during the USA’s 2015 World Cup win, will be eager to reaffirm her status as one of the women’s games biggest superstars.
As a serial winner with Lyon, Renard won’t be daunted by the task of shutting down Morgan in what is already being billed as the biggest game of the tournament so far – this could be one of the most intriguing on-the-pitch battles.
The tables are turning
Only the USA and Germany have reached every quarter-final of the Women’s World Cup between 1991 and 2019, while USWNT are now unbeaten in their last 14 matches in this competition.
For France, this is just their third quarter-final appearance and on both occasions, it took penalties to decide the winner, beating England in 2011 and losing to Germany in 2015.
However, as we’ve seen from the tournament so far, this France side is unlike any other we’ve seen before and is packed full of Champions League-winning quality, home advantage only makes them more formidable.
USWNT beat Les Bleues 3-1 in their only other meeting – the 2011 semi-finals – but their last defeat came at the hands of Friday’s opponents (3-1) back in January.
In a clash between the hosts and the favourites, the two most fancied teams in this year’s competition, history will count for little but destiny awaits.
Neither side have any suspensions heading into the game and all yellow cards picked up to this point are wiped out heading into the semi-finals.
Alex Morgan played 85 minutes against Spain and should be fit to feature once again as she searches for her first goal since striking five in USWNT’s opener against Thailand.
The more this tournament has gone on, the more fragile this USA side has become and their most recent wins over Sweden and Spain were far less convincing than the ones that preceded them. Sure, France had to battle hard for their win over Brazil but having navigated that test, confidence will be high and home advantage could make the difference.
France 2-1 USA