In a phenomenal night of football, holders beat hosts as USA beat France 2-1 in the World Cup.
The result sets the Americans up with a semi-final in Lyon against England. The match itself had everything one could want. So what did we learn?
1. Megan Rapinoe is President
This week Megan Rapinoe, whose two penalties saw the USA past Spain in the round of 16, has been in the news for saying that her side wouldn’t go to the White House if invited (a tradition for American sporting sides that win major honours). Obviously her reason, by implication as an out and proud member of the LGBTQ community, is that Donald Trump is a bigot and the American side want nothing to do with him. Trump has since fired back on Twitter, as he does, saying that Rapinoe should “win before she talks”.
Well, I guess Megan was listening because she hammered home two spectacular goals, one in either half, to ensure that America see off their biggest challengers. Her first was an impossibly accurate free-kick, bending and curling whilst also defying physics by seemingly passing through player’s bodies before fooling Sarah Bouhaddi who saw it so late, that was 1-0.
Then in the second half, with the USA under pressure as France launched wave upon wave of assault on their goal – they broke down the right-hand side and Tobin Heath pinged a low cross into the area for Sam Mewis, but France defended the near-post well and Morgan couldn’t get it. Luckily Rapinoe was coming in on the far-post and thumped the Americans two ahead.
Most goals scored at the 2019 #FIFAWWC so far:
🇺🇸 Alex Morgan (5)
🏴 Ellen White (5)
🇺🇸 Megan Rapinoe (5)
The race for the Golden Boot is on. pic.twitter.com/oMuYhbiHAa
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) June 28, 2019
For the second game in a row Megan Rapinoe scored both goals in a 2-1 American win. She is now joint-top goalscorer at the tournament with five goals. In a week where we’ve seen debates between Democratic members wanting to be President and yet more whiny tweets from the man in the White House, Megan Rapinoe has been the most Presidential American. Give her the job!
2. Diani vs. Dunn
Kadidiatou Diani has been nearly unstoppable all tournament long. The forward has dancing feet to skip around opponents with ease and the kind of power to just go through them if she wants. No one has been able to hang with her, but tonight the USA put Crystal Dunn up against her and the resulting fireworks display generated enough light, heat and energy to power the French capital for a week.
Diani had the sauce, and was repeatedly dancing by, not just Dunn, but by basically anyone who was in the way. But Dunn repeatedly got back to make blocks, tackles, and pretty much anything to just get the ball away. Her recovery pace and defensive instincts, for a player who ordinarily plays in attack for her clubs, was nothing short of miraculous. This was the battle that the World Cup needed to see, a phenomenal clash.
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3. Ertz justifies her selection
When we all saw Julie Ertz starting for the USA against Spain in the last round, everyone assumed that Lindsey Horan was simply being protected for the inevitable showdown with France. Only tonight Ertz retained her place over the magnificent Horan, and people were genuinely baffled.
Ertz was a centre-back when the USA won the title back in 2015, and offers nothing close to what Horan (one of the best players in the world) can. So what was going on here? Well, it turns out, quite a lot. Jill Ellis was deploying Ertz to shut down or at least limit the influence of Gaetane Thiney.
The veteran creative player of Paris FC was someone who concerned Ellis, given Thiney’s masterful ability to manipulate the ball. So Ertz simply sat in her space and prevented her from ever gaining any momentum. Every time she got the ball, bloop, there was Ertz in her face.
The importance of Ertz’s contribution was made clear in the last 30 minutes when she dropped deeper and as a result Thiney began to influence the game with considerable panache. At 33-years-old this will likely be her final World Cup but she went out in style. As for Ertz, with Fran Kirby to come in the semi-finals, you can expect she will be back in destroyer mode in Lyon.
4. Fatigue hits the French
Coming into the game, the French players had collectively played so many more minutes than the Americans. Core players Wendie Renard and Amandine Henry had played every single minute including an extra 30 against Brazil in the last round. From the off in the game, the French didn’t look capable of matching the American’s tempo in blistering heat of the Paris night; Eugenie Le Sommer, for instance, was shockingly off all night.
Fatigue was most acutely visible in defence and seen on America’s second goal. When Wendie Renard and Amel Majri were caught upfield and Tobin Heath ran away down the right, Renard couldn’t even break into a sprint when trying to recover. And this wasn’t the only time the 6’1 defender looked utterly out of gas. It was only once France brought on Delphine Cascarino, who had barely played this tournament and brought real energy to proceedings, that they began to really punish America.
If there’s one criticism of Corinne Diacre, it’s that she didn’t rotate her squad enough and that, in the end, made a huge difference.
5. England should be very, very afraid
England will have to face the USA in the semi-final and even though they have had an extra day of rest and a much easier ride against Norway than the Americans did against France, they should be very wary of the World Champions. USA play with a ruthless ferocity few can match. Their defence can absorb waves of pressure and they have one of the deadliest forwards in the world and the form player of the tournament right now.
Yeah, England have Lucy Bronze and she is a phenomenon. But France had Amandine Henry, and even though Henry was arguably the best player on the pitch tonight, winning the ball back, moving it forward and letting rip dangerous shots from distance; the Americans were able to absorb her brilliance whilst shutting down everyone else and getting the win.
America keep on rising to every challenge put in front of them. England should worry that their recent form has made them the latest challenge, one that the USA will be itching to overcome.