PARIS, France — The match many looked forward to before the World Cup even began has arrived. The reigning champion United States faces host France in a quarterfinal that will end with one of the two tournament favorites going home and the other heading to Lyon for a semifinal matchup with England.
Some are calling it the real World Cup final, which offers a glimpse of the weight this matchup holds. Tickets are sold out for the 3 p.m. ET Friday match at 48,000-seat Parc des Princes, and resale tickets as of Thursday night ranged in price from 100 to 10,000 Euros (about $113-$11,370) on StubHub.com. The match looks like it will live up to U.S. captain Megan Rapinoe’s hopes of being a complete spectacle.
“This is where you want to be. It’s a big game. It’s a global game,” said coach Jill Ellis, who will break the record for most USWNT games coached with her 125th Friday. “I’ve talked a lot over the past couple weeks just where the game is, and I think this is a magnificent showcase piece for our sport. I’ve said it’s the most popular sport in the world now for women and this game makes it bigger.”
France is ranked fourth in the world by FIFA. The U.S. is No. 1. Both teams powered through their groups undefeated and pulled off gritty round-of-16 victories.
In Group A, France took down Korea 4-0, Norway 2-1 and Nigeria 1-0, which was a close game won by a retaken penalty kick. Les Bleus then eked out a 2-1 victory over Brazil in extra time.
In Group F, the U.S. stomped over Thailand 13-0, Chile 3-0 and Sweden 2-0 before narrowly beating Spain 2-1 by converting two penalty kicks.
The Americans are 17-3-3 all-time against France, but 4-3-2 during the past eight meetings. In January, France beat the U.S. 3-1 in a friendly, led by Kadidiatou Diani’s brace.
Despite France being the only team to beat the U.S. during its past 42 matches, French coach Corinne Diacre said during a news conference Thursday her team “won’t be able to match the Americans, that’s for sure.”
“But football is magical and it’s not always the best team that ends up winning,” she continued. “That gives us hope.”
Ellis said playing Sweden was a good pretest for France. She expects balls in behind, balls wide and a direct, physical style of play.
The French and American players are very familiar with each other. France captain Amandine Henry used to play for the Portland Thorns in the National Women’s Soccer League. USA’s Lindsey Horan and Tobin Heath used to play for French club Paris Saint-Germain. Alex Morgan, Morgan Brian and Megan Rapinoe each played for French power Olympique Lyonnais.
Gaëtane Thiney and Eugénie Le Sommer are France’s top attacking threats. Wendie Renard is the tallest player at 6-foot-2 and is dangerous on set pieces. And goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi is a longtime starter who plays a big role in the team’s strategy.
“Bouhaddi has great distribution, but I think we’ll also put ourselves in position to win those balls,” Ellis said.
The story surrounding this game is one of a host nation battling for its first world title against a seemingly unstoppable, confident — some say over-confident — three-time champion. Earlier in the week, a French reporter asked Heath if she could please let France win.
Heath laughed, paused and then leaned forward to her microphone to crisply say, “No.”
“There’s always a narrative attached to a big game like this, but at the end of the day, both teams want it and have to go get it,” Ellis said. “Neither team is going to gift it to the other.”