World Cup quarterfinal: Heat is on USWNT v. hosts France

Joe Prince-Wright
NBC Sports

It will be close to 97 degrees in Paris on Friday as France swelters in a severe, unexpected heatwave.

The U.S. women’s national team will also be feeling the heat at the Parc des Princes (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET online via Telemundo Deportes) as they face the much-fancied tournament hosts in a mouth-watering World Cup quarterfinal.

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France versus the USWNT sees fourth play first in terms of their FIFA rankings, as the reigning champs struggled by Spain in their Round of 16 clash and know that the pressure is on them to deliver and keep up their incredible record of at least reaching the semifinal stage in every single Women’s World Cup in history.

The fact they’ve failed to beat France in their last three games against them, including two defeats with the latest loss coming in January, means that the pressure is cranked up a few notches as the eyes of the world lock in on Paris.

“This U.S. team lives in pressure. When you are young and come into this program, there is always a target on your back,” head coach Jill Ellis told the media. “This is a big game, the players know that. You’re wired for this and built for this. Some teams visit pressure, but we live there. Are there going to be some nerves? Sure. There is a lot at stake. They are wired to handle it.”

Much of the talk ahead of this game has been about President Donald Trump and his reaction to comments from co-captain Megan Rapinoe who said she is “not f****** going to the White House” if the USWNT win the World Cup.

Those comments were to a magazine, Eight By Eight, in January and have gone viral in recent days after the video clip was released.

Rapinoe addressed Trump’s comments — the U.S. president said that she “should never disrespect our Country, the White House, or our Flag, especially since so much has been done for her and the team” and to “be proud of the flag that you wear” — and said she stands by what she said and would urge her teammates to follow her lead.

Back to the action on the pitch, Rapinoe is fired up, as she elaborated on her eccentric comments about facing the hosts in Paris on Friday in primetime.

“The secondary market for tickets is wild. Looking at this match, what it means for the tournament, it is a huge game and our chance to play the host nation in a World Cup,” Rapinoe smiled. “For me, these are why you play all of the thousands of friendlies, training on your own and grinding away. I think it is going to be a fantastic match. It will be fun and it will be a great stage for both teams to go out and enjoy themselves.”

France’s head coach Corinne Diacre put it bluntly when talking about the expectation levels on France against the USWNT, who have plenty of fans supporting them every step of the way in France.

“We have no pressure when we play USA,’ Diacre said.

So it’s over to Ellis’ team as they are focused on spoiling the French party in what should be an epic battle between two teams littered with stars, as Wendie Renard, Eugenie Le Sommer and Amandine Henry lead the French charge and the likes of Rapinoe, Julie Ertz and Alex Morgan will be front and center for the USWNT.

“From where we were four years ago and from where France were four years ago, we are both stronger teams,” Rapinoe said.

Which team will be strong enough to better handle the inferno of expectation and reach the final four?

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