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U.S., France atmosphere lives up to hype in World Cup prize fight

Fans decked in red, white and blue appeared to make Parc des Princes sway with their spirited cheers

French players gather at the halftime of the FIFA Women's World Cup quarterfinal match against the U.S. Friday at the Parc des Princes in Paris. (LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP/Getty Images)

PARIS — It was billed as a spectacle.

And the intense U.S. 2-1 win over France in the Women’s World Cup quarterfinals delivered the exact level of madness players and fans hoped ahead of Friday night’s match.

C’ést manifique ce soir,” U.S. star Megan Rapinoe said after playing in front of a rowdy sellout crowd of 45,595 at Parc des Princes.

Fans roamed the Paris streets surrounding the stadium hours before the match, draped in flags and chanting as they marched toward one of the biggest matches in Women’s World Cup history. Underneath them, in a nearby train station, hordes of fans lined up in front of a face-painting station, adding splashes of color to their cheeks despite the 90-plus degree heat.

Inside, Parc des Princes filled out nearly to capacity half an hour before kickoff. The red, white and blue donned by both U.S. and French fans blended into one cohesive sea of rising insanity as kickoff approached. French fans, in their home stadium, out-numbered American fans. But the noise level from both was loud.

The excitement surrounding Friday’s match had been building for weeks.

“We knew even back in the draw that this was probably the matchup,” U.S. coach Jill Ellis said.

The U.S. and France have been two of the best teams in this summer’s World Cup. They had already played once this year, a January friendly that France won 3-1, and the excitement over a rematch reached a fever pitch before a ball even touched the field. For as long as World Cup fans have known the two teams were on the same side of the bracket, this was the matchup fans hoped to see.

When Rapinoe’s direct free kick in the fifth minute squirted through multiple legs in the box, giving the U.S. an early 1-0 lead, U.S. fans exploded.

“I’ve been to other U.S. games where we’ve been either the underdog or the ones where we’re going to win, and I’ve never been in at atmosphere like that,” said Krissie Goetz, a member of the U.S. fan group American Outlaws who traveled from Sacramento for the match. “I literally felt like the earth was shaking underneath me.”

Still, French fans’ decibel level never wavered. At moments, as they willed their team to make a comeback, they all bounced up and down as they sang, creating the optical illusion the whole stadium was in motion.

“It’s everything you want,” Rapinoe said of Friday’s atmosphere. “Obviously we’re not at a home World Cup, so [there was] a good, healthy, hostile crowd. Our fans were amazing. They screamed their little hearts out, but they were no match for the Frenchies tonight.”

Rapinoe scored again in the 65th minute, putting the U.S. up 2-0. In celebration, she did the same as she’d done for her first: ran to a spot on the sideline, this time in front of the American Outlaws’ section, and stood still and pointed upward. Her stance only inspired more noise from a crowd searching for a cathartic release from what had been a nerve-racking week leading up to Friday’s match.

Rapinoe was targeted by President Trump and others after an old video surfaced stating she did not want to go the White House should the U.S. win the World Cup. She said she wasn’t fired up by the critics, but her fans in the stands clearly enjoyed celebrating the goals that carried a bit of extra meaning. Of course Rapinoe won the game for the U.S. Who else could add to the epic match? 

Despite the deficit, the home crowd remained eager to pounce on any sign of life from the French squad. Wendie Renard headed in a set piece in the 81st minute, bringing France within one and injecting life back into the swaths of fans not ready to say goodbye to this team.

In the waning moments, the swell of noise never died down. French fans booed heartily at what they thought was a handball in the box late in the second half and U.S. fans screamed without abandon when the final whistle blew. 

From start to finish, Parc des Princes exhibited unique energy that made it a special Women’s World Cup match.

As she’s done so often throughout this tournament, Rapinoe summed it up: “It was a game we’ll never forget here in Paris.”

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