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France

Eye on France: Football greatness awaits!

media Alex Morgan(l) and Megan Rapinoe of the US during training before the clash with France. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

The Paris papers are anxious about tonight’s football clash between France and the United States in the quarter-finals of the Women's World Cup.

The headline writers are playing it cagey:

"America takes French threat seriously" says Le Monde. That's not exactly decisive.

Libération stresses the media success already achieved by this competition, suggesting that a French victory tonight will give the women's game a huge additional boost.

Le Figaro lines up seven stories on the World Cup, coverage dominated by star French performers and their coach, Corinne Diacre.

This is one of those mythic clashes, a potential competition decider three games from the final, in which the defending champions take on the hosts in front of a sell-out crowd at the Parc des Princes. There’s a clash of styles as well, American flamboyance against Gallic guts and solidity.

In fairness, the French will need to produce something special. They have done well so far, four games, four victories, without ever setting the house on fire.

But the daily paper Libération suggests that the French have exactly the combination of physical strength and speed needed to put a stop to the American machine.

Football is the winner!

Whatever the result, the competition is already a success.

The peak TV audience last Sunday for the France-Brazil clash was 12 million, about the same as for the group stages of last year’s men’s competition in Russia. In Brazil, there were 35 million viewers, a national record.

Italy’s mythically macho Gazetta dello Sport had never written as much as a word on women’s football, until the Italians qualified for the quarter-finals. That earned the girls a place on the front page. RAI 1, the main public TV channel, chose that very match, in which the Italians beat the Chinese 2-nil, as the first-ever women’s football game broadcast in Italy.

Which goes to show that you can smash a glass ceiling or two with a football.

So, who's going to win?

As for tonight’s match itself, a French win will require a massive effort from the host nation.

France beat the US 3-1 in a friendly last January, the French girls half way through their domestic season, the Americans just getting into their stride. It won’t count for much, except psychologically.

The Swedes beat the Americans in the 2016 Olympic quarter-finals, thanks to a ferociously efficient defence, compact organisation and the odd rapid counter-attack. It worked, and it’s exactly the sort of game which the French girls are capable of laying on tonight.

The wonderfully-named American goalkeeper at the time, Hope Solo, condemned the Swedes after that match “as a bunch of chickens” for their refusal to play into the world champions’ trap. Solo has since given up hope, and has retired from international football. She’ll be missed, especially in Sweden.

When Hope is gone . . .

Her boots seem more than adequately filled by the current US team captain, Megan Rapinoe, penalty-taker extraordinaire, self-proclaimed team big mouth, fan of Tilda Swinton, lesbian and vociferously anti-Trump. For the past three years, Rapinoe has refused to take part in the singing of the US anthem before matches.

It’s partly solidarity with Colin Kaepernick and other black footballers who started kneeling during the pre-game anthem to protest police violence against African-Americans.

Says Megan Rapinoe, “as an American homosexual, I know what it’s like to look at the flag and feel that it doesn’t protect all our rights equally.”

She says her refusal of the anthem is also a very simple message to President Donald Trump: “fuck you for all the divisions and mistrust which bear on people who are not exactly like the president”.

Trump returned a twitter blast yesterday, telling Megan to win first, talk later.

Dinner at the White House, anyone?

If they do win, and go on to defend their world title, Rapinoe probably won’t be attending any gala dinner in the White House. Just like her mid-field team-mate, Alex Morgan, who has already confirmed that she won’t be eating luke-warm Big Macs with The Donald.

That celebration could turn out to be a quite evening at Washington’s poshest address.

No fewer than 28 top American players, including most of the international squad, have taken their employer, the American Football Federation, to court for gender discrimination, notably because of the gulf between salaries for male and female players.

So much for those holes in the glass ceiling.

Tonight’s match kicks-off at 21H00, Paris time.

As polite representatives of the host-nation, we’ll give the last word to the American captain: “men have run the world for all these years,” Megan Rapinoe laughs, “maybe they should just take a few hundred years off.”

I’m outta here!

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