PARIS, France — Megan Rapinoe responded to her critics and a hostile crowd at the Parc des Princes stadium the way she always does — by leading the United States women’s national soccer team to victory.
On a night where Rapinoe was Public Enemy No. 1, booed every time she touched the ball by the majority of the 45,595 in attendance, the product of Redding, Calif., stuck it into the net twice to give the United States a 2-1 victory against host France in a quarterfinal encounter Friday at the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
With the win, the United States moves on to face England in a semifinal Tuesday in Lyon. France is done and with it its hopes of a World Cup title at home as the men had won in 1998.
“I don’t really get energized by haters and all that,” Rapinoe said after the game. “I feel that there are some people that love me and I’m energized by that. There was obviously tons of support, not only internally from the group, but friends and family. But you want to come out and have a great performance and take the chances that we had and I was lucky enough that it worked out for me tonight.”
Rapinoe scored five minutes into the contest, bending a free kick in through a maze of legs, and then added a second an hour later finishing off a counter attack as France pushed for the equalizer.
Wendie Renard gave France some hope with a goal 10 minutes from the end. The hosts also had a late penalty claim on a hand ball in the box that was ignored by the controversial Video Assistant Referee system.
It was the second-consecutive game Rapinoe scored twice. She finished off a pair of penalties in the second round against Spain to set up the highly-anticipated quarterfinal.
“I feel like Pinoe (Rapinoe) is such a special person, because people just gravitate to her,” said United States midfielder Rose Lavelle. “She’s just a fun, unique person off the field and I feel that it helps even more so on the field, her leadership skills and I feel she is someone people want to listen to and learn from. She’s been such a huge part of our team and I feel like she’s helped carry us through this tournament.”
Facing a storm of criticism for her 9-0 goal celebration in a 13-0 win against Thailand in the opener and having president Donald Trump attack her on Twitter for not wanting to attending the White House if the Americans win the tournament, Rapinoe, 33, again displayed why she is among the best female players in the world.
Just three minutes into the game, Rapinoe sent in a long throw-in for Alex Morgan to chase down the left side of the French penalty area. Morgan was fouled by French fullback Griedge Mbock Bathy and won the free kick that led to the opening goal.
Rapinoe stepped up to take the free kick to a chorus of boos and promptly bent the ball in through a sea of legs in the penalty area past goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi.
As is usually the case with Rapinoe, the outspoken captain of the U.S. team, she got the last laugh.
The early goal forced the hosts to push forward, which left gaps in behind for the bigger, faster Americans to try and exploit.
“When you lose a match that shows that you didn’t do what you needed to, and in the end that comes to our finishing,” said France coach Corinne Diacre. “I think our game plan worked well in regards to the way we used the ball, but we weren’t clinical enough when it came to our finishing and in our final decisions and technically, we made some mistakes as well, we weren’t tidy enough, when we had the ball out wide, we weren’t able to cross the ball in the quality that caused problems.”
Rapinoe increased the U.S. lead in the 65th minute, finishing off a counter attack started by Morgan playing Tobin Heath in behind the French line down the wing. Heath attempted to cross the ball into Mewis, but the ball was played behind her and rolled to Rapinoe at the far post, who had a tap-in to put the United States up by two.
“We just hit them on the break hard,” Rapinoe said. “We were under the pump for much of the game, but we took our chances really well. I was just trying to get into a good space and Tobin had a great cutback and I was at the far post. I actually had so much time to think about it.”
The Americans looked like they had increased their lead to three just under 15 minutes from the end when Heath finished off another slick counter-attack move, but the goal was waved off on an offside.
France pushed to get back in the game and continued to generate chances until Renard headed home a free kick crossed into the box to set up a wild finish.
With five minutes to go, a cross into the box hit the arm of American defender Kelley O’Hara, but a penalty was not given and VAR did not intervene even though the ball clearly hit her arm.
“I think we could debate his all night long, but what point would be in that? We’ve had VAR go our way in the past, clearly tonight it didn’t,” Diacre said. “But I think we shouldn’t get too hung up on that to be honest. The only regret we can have tonight is that we didn’t necessarily focus when the ball was being taken in from the throw in.
“That’s something we’ve identified, that’s something we’ve analyzed and something we had planned for but it wasn’t enough.”
On Twitter: @DerekVanDiest
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019