The U.S. women's national team celebrates after a game at the FIFA Women's World Cup on June 24, 2019 in Reims, France.
PARIS -- Sometimes we get what we want, and sometimes we get what we deserve.
On Friday, we will get both.
The sporting community, domestic and international, will be in for what could be the game of the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in a delicious confrontation: U.S. vs. France in the quarterfinals at Parc des Princes in Paris.
The defending champions and the top-ranked team in the world with several trophy cases full of silverware vs. the host team and the No. 4 side, desperately seeking a trophy to call its own.
In fact, it is a confrontation much more worthy of a final or semifinal than a quarterfinal, but thanks to the random draw one of the two pre-tournament favorites will be eliminated much sooner than anticipated
Just how big a deal is this?
After Team USA squeaked past Spain 2-0 in the Round of 16, captain Megan Rapinoe had this to say about the match: “Hopefully a complete spectacle, maybe a circus. I hope it’s huge and crazy, the best game everybody wanted. ... This is the kind of game you dream about as a kid.”
During the pregame press conference on Thursday, Rapinoe doubled down.
“It’s only built,” she said of the excitement. “I think it’s sold out already. The secondhand market of the tickets is wild.”
According to businessinsider.com, this could be the most expensive Women’s World Cup game ever. Some of the least expensive seats are going for $425 apiece, the website reported, while others are being offered for as much as $11,000 on secondary markets.
“Looking at this match, not only what it means for the tournament, it’s a huge game and a chance to get into the medal round,” said Rapinoe, who scored both goals against Spain, both on penalty kicks, “but a chance to play the host nation in a World Cup. This is why you play all these friendlies a thousand times and train on your own for hours and hours and grind through the rest of it. It’s going to be to be a fantastic. It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be a great stage for both teams who have had a lot of pressure and a lot of eyes on them to really just go out, perform and enjoy themselves.”
Well, it depends on what you consider pressure.
Even though her team has never won a world championship and is playing at home, France coach Corinne Diacre claimed her players faced no pressure.
“Quite honestly, when you come up against the United States, there is no pressure,” she said. “It’s impossible to have any pressure tomorrow night. Quite opposite, in fact, it’s additional motivation for us. We’re coming up against the best team in the world.
“I have a lot less to do in my team talk in regards to motivation. I don’t need to work on that at all. The girls are absolutely firing from that perspective. There is work to do before the game. It’s massive to come up against the U.S. national team.”
Three-time champion Team USA, on the other hand, does feel the pinch, according to coach Jill Ellis.
Let’s face it, the Americans are the super power of women’s soccer. They are expected to take victory laps at every competition. Failure to reach the championship game, let alone win it, is considered failure.
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In seven previous World Cups, the U.S. has won three times, finishing second once and third three times. The Americans essentially have written the history of the Olympic women’s tournament, with four gold medals in their collection and one silver since the sport’s 1996 debut. In fact, the only time Team USA failed to reach the final four at a major tournament was at the Olympic Games Rio 2016, when it fell in the quarterfinals.
“The U.S. team lives in pressure,” said Ellis, who guided the team both to the 2015 World Cup win but also the 2016 Olympic disappointment. “When you’re young coming to this program, there’s always a target on your back. So, it’s almost a place where we live regularly. This is a big game and the players know that, but I also think it’s that expectation of being ready for this moment. We talk a lot about it. They’re all wired for this. They’re built for this. You don’t come into the U.S. program and hide in the shadows. You come in and are in the spotlight right away. Some teams visit pressure, but I think we live there a lot.”
Both teams face their own challenges.
The Americans, the lone non-European side still alive and kicking in the competition, must put their so-so performance against Spain behind them and play a much more fluid attacking game with fewer defensive errors. Team USA is 0-2-1 against France in its last three matches, including a 3-1 loss in Le Havre in January that snapped a 28-game unbeaten streak. Both sides agreed that the Americans were just starting their international season, however, so that game might not be a reliable measuring stick.
The French, despite having just four losses since the start of 2017, have to find a way to overcome their quarterfinal jinx. In their last three major competitions, they have been eliminated during that round. That included exits in Euro 2013 (loss to Demark on penalty kicks), the 2015 WWC (defeat to Germany on penalties) and Euro 2017 (1-0 loss to England). And since UEFA uses the Women’s World Cup as a qualifying arm for the Olympics, France must win the match to keep its hopes alive to reach the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, because Europe has been given three of the 16 spots in the Olympic tournament.
“We have had these defeats in quarterfinals that have been haunting us for a while,” Diacre said. “That might be the case tomorrow night, but we don’t know that. Trying to think above all we need to focus on the match. We still have things to prove. We know we haven’t been perfect since the start of the competition.”
Then there’s the heat. The French capital has endured a heat wave this week, with temperatures soaring into the 90s. Game-time temperatures have been forecast to be 86 degrees.
“I can speak for myself and most of the girls who play in the NWSL,” said U.S. midfielder Sam Mewis about the National Women’s Soccer League. “We play in this heat every week. I play in North Carolina. I train in this. We haven’t noticed that much. I think a lot of the girls are used to it.”
In heat like this, it comes down to hydration, hydration, hydration.
“We have a ton of methods and resources and medical tests that ensures that we’re not affected by this,” U.S. forward Tobin Heath said. “We have already started that process.”
Michael Lewis, who covers soccer for Newsday, has written about the sport for four decades and has written six books about soccer. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.