PARIS, France — They knew the stakes. They knew the magnitude. They knew this match was the big one.
The United States women’s national team players said nothing would distract them — and it didn’t. They were outpossessed and outshot, but the Americans finished their chances and are going on to meet England in the semifinals of the 2019 Women’s World Cup.
Megan Rapinoe scored both goals in the 2-1 victory over host France, played in front of a raucous announced crowd of 45,595 at Parc des Princes.
“It’s the knockout round. You don’t get past it without statement performances. What a huge performance from the team,” Rapinoe said. “They had so much of the ball, so just a massive defensive performance from us, and the grit and heart and focus and tenacity it takes to do that is just tremendous.”
The clock read five minutes when Rapinoe curled a free kick toward goal and the ball bounced through a sea of legs into the back of the net. The crowd went nuts. The United States had a 1-0 lead over host France during what had been described as the biggest match of the tournament, a should-have-been final.
But France took control the rest of the first half and most of the second, keeping the ball on the Americans’ side of the pitch for lengthy periods. Les Bleues finished with 60 percent possession but had trouble finishing. Of France’s 20 shots, five were on target, seven blocked and eight off target. The U.S. put eight of 10 shots on target, with one off target and one blocked.
“Proud of the defense, ya know, sliding, blocking shots, defending the end line, denying service, denying crosses, fighting off balls coming in,” said U.S. goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher, who finished the night with four saves.
The crowd got especially loud any time France took a corner kick. It seemed inevitable Les Bleues would score. During one especially tense attacking moment, U.S. defender Kelley O’Hara was hit in the stomach and went down, stopping France’s momentum.
Then in the 65th minute, when it looked like the U.S. might be dispossessed again, Alex Morgan tapped the ball forward to a streaking Tobin Heath, who then crossed it through the center of the box, where Rapinoe came out of nowhere to finished for a 2-0 lead.
Ten minutes later, French fans held their collective breath when Heath scored a third U.S. goal, but the referee ruled Crystal Dunn offside before she passed the ball to Heath.
France picked right back up where it left off after the negated goal, charging into the Americans’ final third time after time.
“It’s an incredible team, and then you add to that the surge of momentum from the fans. I mean, at times it felt like a tsunami,” U.S. coach Jill Ellis said. “It just was a lot.”
The hosts finally broke through in the 81st minute.
Gaëtane Thiney sent a free kick to the far post, where 6-foot-2 centerback Wendie Renard waited for a point-blank header that sent the crowd into a tizzy. The score now 2-1, France continued to push.
Another French free kick went nowhere. An 89th-minute shot was saved by Naeher. Through five minutes of added time, nothing landed and the whistle blew to close France’s World Cup journey.
“We had obviously analyzed the statistics, which said the U.S. tend to come out firing in the opening 15 minutes, and we paid very dearly for switching off there,” France coach Corinne Diacre said. “Once again, the Americans showed matches come down to small details and their experience did the rest.”
The U.S. will play England in a semifinal July 2 in Lyon. Two more quarterfinals will be held Saturday and the winners of those will advance to the second semifinal July 3. Italy takes on Netherlands at 9 a.m. ET and Germany plays Sweden at 12:30 p.m.
“As much as we’re celebrating this win, I just reminded them we’re just getting warmed up,” Ellis said. “We’re on a mission.”