It’s the game we’ve all been waiting for at this World Cup. The betting markets generally have an implied probability of greater than 50% that one of these two will win the tournament. And here they are, facing off in a straight knockout tie.
The United States have been stunningly dominant until the round of 16 match against Spain, where they were merely good enough to get through. France, meanwhile, haven’t put up quite the same scorelines, but have nonetheless deservedly won all their games so far.
For the French, the side looks largely settled in the first two thirds of the pitch but there are still some questions in attack. Gaëtane Thiney and Delphine Cascarino have been rotated in and out of the side but both started on the bench against Brazil. Neither have really set this tournament alight so far, but could well return to the starting eleven, possibly in place of Kadidiatou Diani or Viviane Asseyi. It feels like France still haven’t quite found the right attacking balance.
Further back, France may have the outstanding defender of the tournament so far in Wendie Renard. The headline is of course that she’s already scored two goals, but it shouldn’t detract from how dominant she’s been in the air in both boxes.
As good as she is in an attacking sense, don’t underestimate her traditional centre back qualities, and she deservedly leads France in Twelve’s player rankings. The own goal against Norway seems like merely a momentary blip.
Not running far behind is Amandine Henry, the nominally defensive midfielder who has popped up in interesting ways in terms of scoring goals and ball progression. France have players who are really adept on both sides of the ball, and if they can just find the right recipe in attack then they can go all the way.
Unless, of course, the American powerhouse can stop them here. The US didn’t play spectacularly against Spain but were clearly the better side, continuing their trend of being undoubtedly the strongest performers at this World Cup so far. Save for the heavily rotated lineup against Chile, Jill Ellis has largely kept the core of the side the same this tournament and presumably will do so here.
While Alex Morgan hasn’t impressed upfront since the opening game, and many would like to see Carli Lloyd come into the team, this seems unlikely to happen against France. This might be a mistake as, excluding that first game against Thailand, Lloyd has been the States’’ best performer in Twelve’s model while Morgan is all the way down in sixteenth.
In terms of players who actually look like starting, Megan Rapinoe has been causing problems for sides, starting on the left but coming inside and getting good shots away with her stronger right foot. She has also been taking the penalties, which have been so frequent in this tournament and could easily play a factor in this game.
As for how the game could turn out overall, it might be the rare occasion in which France will have to accept not dominating possession. The crowd in Paris will obviously be predominantly French, so this is something that the Americans will have to deal with for the first time, generally bringing such a large contingent of their own fans.
And that’s what’s so exciting about this game. Both sides should be tested in ways that they have yet to be challenged here. France vs USA could easily be the final. If you’re going to watch a Women’s World Cup quarter final, make it this one.