The Parc des Princes, venue of France’s first ever international title, when Michel Platini and their men defeated Spain in the 1984 Euros Final, plays host this afternoon to the biggest game in this World Cup thus far.
I can picture the scene right now, having been in the Parisien suburb for a Round of 16 knock-out clash during the most recent Euros, in 2016. Bright sunshine, good natured crowds milling around, plenty of welcoming hostelries, street cafes and a supermarket or two that will sell you beer and wine, despite street-imbibing being frowned upon. Generally, you can get away with it on a big day though, and this one promises to be huge.
The reward for the winners is another mouth-watering clash in Lyon, with England, arguably along with these two the teams of the tournament so far.
Media hype around the US team is possibly at an all-time high, and it’s not to do with the football, co-captain Megan Rapinoe going toe to toe with the guy in the orange hair has captured the headlines.
Whether media frenzy around the clear dislike that exists between the pair is distracting or not, USA coach Jill Ellis talks of “phenomenal focus” and is pretty adamant that her girls’ minds are fully on the job in hand. She’d better be right. It needs to be. The European challenge looks more formidable than ever before, and the US needed two penalties, one incredibly soft, to get past Spain in the Round of 16.
Spain would not have been considered one of the favourites going into the competition, rather a side that could spring a surprise or two, but on the day, they looked good enough to topple mighty, Uncle Sam.
They pressed and asked questions of an American back four which had found things all too simple up to then. The Spanish goal resulted from a glaring defensive error. This will not have gone unnoticed by coach Ellis, who must certainly have used the time in between to work her defence.
France are a better side than Spain, and like their European counterparts have continued to improve. Quarter-finals are not an unknown quantity for Les Bleues. Winning them is.
Should they advance, and I think they have the game to so, meeting England in a semi-final becomes relatively unknown territory.
French coach Corinne Diacre is not all that convincing however when she claims there is no pressure on her side. She has attempted, vainly, to shift all the pressure onto the USA girls, but confidence in France is high. When France is confident, France expects!
There is pressure for sure. When a host nation is one of the favourites and looks the part, there is always pressure.
”We have had quarter-final defeats haunting us for a while. That might be the case again, we don’t know, but we have things to prove,” said the French France coach.
”When you play against the US I will have a lot less work to do in my team talk, there will be no motivation. The girls are absolutely firing from that perspective - full throttle.
”It is massive to come up against the US, the team with the most success in the women’s game. But there is no pressure. Quite the opposite.”
The fact that American coach Ellis must continually talk about Rapinoe-gate means it must be a distraction she would prefer to be without.
“Our players are just ready to face the first and second balls, and really get after it.”
She added:“I’m not around them all the time so I don’t know what they’re saying, but at the end of the day, on the training ground and in meeting rooms, focus has been phenomenal.”
The USA top the world rankings. have lost only once since 2017, when France did the honours in Le Havre and are aiming to win a record fourth World Cup.
France reached their only ever semi-final in 2011, losing 1-3 to today’s opponent, and if the hosts do prevail it will represent the first World Cup in history in which they’ve failed to reach the last four.
Jill Ellis: “This is a big game and the players know that. They’re wired for this, they’re built for this. You don’t come into the US programme and hide in the shadows - you come in and you’re in the spotlight right away.”
The US group undoubtedly has great resolve, displays fantastic character, they never know when they are beaten, but in a quite formidable French side on home turf, I won’t be surprised if today, they meet their match.
Today’s games and where to watch them (all EST) -
1500 hrs – France v USA – Women’s World Cup Quarter-final – TSN1, TSN4, TSN5, TSN GO, RDS, RDS GO
1030 - Tunisia v Mali – AFCON - beIN Sports Canada, DAZN
1300 - Morocco v Cote D’Ivoire - AFCON - beIN Sports Canada, DAZN
1500 - Venezuela v Argentina - Copa America Quarter-final - TSN2, TSN GO
1600 - South Africa v Namibia - AFCON - beIN Sports Canada, DAZN
1900 – Colombia v Chile - Copa America Quarter-final - TSN2, TSN GO