PARIS (AP) — Controversy didn’t drive Megan Rapinoe, the big moment did.
Rapinoe turned turmoil into triumph Friday night, scoring twice in the much-anticipated clash with host France to send the defending champion United States into the semifinals of the Women’s World Cup with a 2-1 victory.
Two days earlier, Rapinoe had been called out on social media by President Donald Trump after video surfaced of her saying she wouldn’t visit the White House if the United States won the tournament, and the critics pounced. Rapinoe shrugged them off by facing the crowd with her arms raised in celebration after both her goals.
“I don’t really get energized by haters or all that, I feel there are so many more people that love me,” she said with a laugh. “I’m more energized by that.”
Now the top-ranked Americans are headed to Lyon to face No. 3 England in a semifinal match Tuesday.
France had been vying to become the first nation to simultaneously hold the men’s and women’s World Cup trophies but fell well short as their aggressive play, home-field advantage and flag-waving crowd that belted out La Marseillaise failed to faze the ever-confident U.S. team.
Rapinoe, her hair highlighted with a pastel pink, scored on a free kick in the fifth minute that bounced between French players and past goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi. She did it again in the 65th minute after blasting a cross from Tobin Heath that Bouhaddi dove for but couldn’t stop. It was her fifth goal of the tournament.
Fourth-ranked France pulled back on Wendie Renard’s header off Gaetane Thiney’s free kick in the 81st. It was the 6-foot-2 defender’s fourth World Cup goal and gave the home crowd at the sellout Parc des Princes hope.
“I mean, you have to give it up to the French team. I think they outplayed us for sure with the ball, but we were so good defensively, so strong. We hit them where it hurt. We took our chances,” Rapinoe said. “This team — unreal, unreal amount of heart.”
The U.S. team is used to grabbing attention both on and off the field. Rapinoe was caught up in a controversy this week when a video surfaced of her using an expletive while vowing not to visit the White House. While the interview was from January, it attracted the president’s attention and he tweeted: “Megan should never disrespect our Country, the White House, or our Flag, especially since so much has been done for her & the team.” Trump also said he would invite the team, win or lose.
A day before the match, Rapinoe said she stood by her comments , except the coarse language. Rapinoe, who also had a pair of goals on penalty kicks in the United States’ 2-1 victory over Spain to open the knockout stage, even suggested the uproar might help her team. “I think, if anything, it just fires everybody up a little bit more,” she said.
Coach Jill Ellis said Rapinoe’s night was typical of the outspoken 33-year-old playing in her third World Cup.
“She’s just a big personality on and off the pitch and I think she honestly thrives off these big moments,” Ellis said.
The United States went to a five-player backline and repeatedly kept the aggressive French team at bay. Goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher was stellar in the second half, fighting off a flurry of attempts until Renard’s header.
“I’m proud of the defense, sliding, blocking shots, denying service, denying crosses coming in,” Naeher said. “France’s offense is potent and can hurt you in so many ways and I thought our defense held strong all night. It’s an honor to be behind them.”
The Americans have played the French 24 times, with France winning just three. But the three matches prior to Friday’s quarterfinal had tilted toward France, with two wins and a draw.
“The media and fans and everyone bought into this being a final being played as a quarterfinal match. And it was. I feel like it was a great match,” U.S. star Alex Morgan said. “I think we have the edge on them in World Cups and major tournaments, but lately they’ve had the edge on us with friendlies. So I think it was a great match for both of us.”
Because of the loss Friday, France does not qualify for the 2020 Olympics. The top three European finishers at the World Cup qualify.
“Yes, it is a failure on a footballing level,” France coach Corinne Diacre said through a translator. “I don’t think we should shy away from that. We’re a long way off our target and it is a failure on the pitch. But I hope that we have attained something elsewhere tonight, I hope we have won over the hearts and minds of the public. I hope this will help the women’s game to go further to move into the next level.”
Les Bleues also reached the quarterfinals at the 2015 World Cup in Canada but fell to Germany on penalties after a 1-1 draw. The team’s best finish at the tournament was fourth in 2011.
The victory over France was Jill Ellis’ 125th match as the U.S. coach, surpassing April Heinrichs for the career record. It was also her 100th victory.
The United States already has three World Cup trophies, most of any nation. The Americans emphatically beat Japan 5-2 to win in Canada four years ago.
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