WORLD CUP SOCCER: It felt like a final, not a quarterfinal, the two favorites in the Women’s World Cup playing for coronation, not simple advancement. The stadium was throbbing. Ticket sellers were asking thousands of dollars for a single seat. Pressure and anticipation seemed to bake like the heat that hovered near 90 degrees.
It seemed, too, as if more than a quarterfinal victory were at stake when the United States faced France on Friday, perhaps even validation of women’s soccer’s mainstream appeal.
There was also some hint that the United States, the defending World Cup champion, could lose its standing as the dominant power in the sport.
Nobody seemed better prepared for the urgency of the moment than the American forward Megan Rapinoe, who scored twice as the United States defeated France, 2-1, before a capacity crowd of 45,595 at the Parc des Princes stadium. Rapinoe scored on a devilish free kick in the fifth minute, swooped onto a crossing pass for a second goal in the 65th and seemed invigorated — or at least not distracted in the slightest — after her midweek jousting with President Trump, who had criticized her for saying she would not visit the White House if the United States won its fourth World Cup.
If the Americans — the only non-European team among the eight quarterfinalists — are to be thwarted in their defense of the 2015 title, and dislodged as the No. 1 team in the world, that must wait until at least Tuesday, when they will play a semifinal against England in Lyon. But England will have to contend with Rapinoe, who has scored five goals in five World Cup matches and has surged through this tournament with a freewheeling personality off the field and a merciless intent on it.
“It’s the knockout rounds,” Rapinoe said. “You don’t get past it without statement performances.”
On Friday night, from the kickoff, Rapinoe, who will be 34 next week, sent the American attack searing down the left wing as if on a sprint relay. In the fifth minute, she hurled the ball upfield on a quick throw-in and France’s stalwart central defender, Griedge Mbock Bathy, had to yank down the forward Alex Morgan as she raced in on goal.
Mbock Bathy was given a yellow card but the true punishment came a moment later, when Rapinoe sent a low, wicked free kick from about 22 yards that appeared to dip through the legs of both the American midfielder Julie Ertz and the French captain Amandine Henry before sailing past goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi, who did not have time to lift a hand to stop it. Rapinoe ran to the corner and theatrically spread her arms in celebration.
Staked to a lead, the United States defense remained compact and organized and cut out repeated French attacks for the first 80 minutes. The Americans were faster and more insistent to the ball, leaving their French players often disjointed in their passing and unnerved at times by the ferocious play of their opponents.
The United States left back, Crystal Dunn, masterfully contained the speedy French forward Kadidiatou Diani. Ertz, Becky Sauerbrunn, Kelley O’Hara, Samantha Mewis and the goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher were indefatigable in their hustle and sturdy in their positioning and anticipation.
Asked beforehand if the quarrel with the president would distract the American team, Coach Jill Ellis had answered emphatically that it would not, saying that her team “lives in pressure,” as if it were a garment.
In the 65th minute, after a turnover at midfield, the United States doubled its lead when it surged ahead again on a break. The forward Tobin Heath sent a crossing pass from the right toward Mewis, who let it roll to a charging and unmarked Rapinoe. She scored her second with unhurried precision and began shouting and pumping her arms.
The defender Ali Krieger, who had tweeted in support of Rapinoe after the president’s criticism, said that for Rapinoe to respond by taking “this team on her back,” showed that she was “one of the best players in the world and also just a great representation of what our country is all about — togetherness and fight and having that mentality of winning.”
But France also proved to be psychologically strong, and it created a frantic finish.
In the 81st minute, France’s 6-foot-2 inch defender, Wendie Renard, slipped free of Rapinoe and the substitute midfielder Lindsey Horan to score on a header from six yards that Naeher had no chance to save. The American lead was halved to 2-1. The United States got a break in the 85th minute when a shot hit O’Hara’s elbow in the penalty area but no penalty was called.
Rapinoe, who had seemed to use all the fuel in her tank, was replaced moments later. She had to watch the five minutes of added time from the bench, but the score did not change. At the end, the French were left devastated, some bent over, others with hands on hips or arms on heads, a few shedding tears of disbelief and disappointment.
They had played to large crowds and record television audiences for three weeks. This was to be the moment of arrival for women’s soccer in France, which had been banned as too masculinizing during World War II and not given approval again by the French soccer federation until 1970.
But France again left a major tournament with nothing to show for its efforts. It has never finished higher than fourth at the World Cup, the Olympics or the European championships. It has departed its last five major tournaments — two European championships, two World Cups and an Olympics — in the quarterfinals.
Losing at home, to the United States, with the whole world watching, will only make the sting sharper. The Americans merely moved on, forming into a circle and dancing as they moved on to the semifinals for the eighth time in eight Women’s World Cups.
“It’s such an honor to be her teammate,” Mewis said of Rapinoe, adding: “ A World Cup is about coming up big in big moments, and that’s what she’s doing.”