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France no underdog in quarterfinal match against Team USA

Franck Fife, AFP | Supporters wave French flags ahead of the 2019 Women's World Cup round of sixteen football match between France and Brazil, on June 23, 2019, at the Stade Océane in Le Havre.

Current world champions Team USA face home team Les Bleues at Parc de Princes in Paris on Friday night, in a heat wave: a Women’s Football World Cup quarterfinal match as anticipated as any final.

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This could be the sports story of the summer. It is this World Cup’s hot ticket, if not the most expensive. On Friday, online ticket site StubHub was selling entries to tonight's match for €10,000. Meanwhile, tickets for Saturday’s quarterfinal match between Germany and Sweden on FIFA's official site were going for €15.

The US may be arriving with the title, but that does not mean they will leave with it. The French are anything but the underdogs in this game.

The Americans have played the French 23 times, with France winning just three of those meetings. But the last three matches have tilted toward France, with two wins and a draw. And the French have actually beaten the Americans already this year, 3-1, in a January friendly.

“They’ve got a great trophy cabinet and we still have everything to prove,” French captain Amandine Henry said.

The host team also boasts a home advantage and a rowdy French crowd all primed to cheer on Les Bleues.

Allez Les Bleues

Currently ranked No. 4 in the world, Les Bleues finished at the top of their group before overcoming a determined challenge from Brazil on June 23 to reach the quarterfinals.

The French national team has seen its profile rise considerably in recent years, coinciding with the growth of its domestic professional league. The core of the team is made up of Lyon's all-conquering side, Europe's best women's team and four-time Champions League winners.

Henry is one of the world's best defensive midfielders, striker Eugénie Le Somer is closing in on France's all-time scoring record, and Wendie Renard, at 1.87 metres the tallest player in the tournament, is a central defender who has scored three times in this tournament.

France is seeking to become the first nation to simultaneously hold the men’s and women’s World Cup trophies, after their men’s team won in Russia last year.

US not invincible

The US, on the other hand, are the returning title holders. They already have three World Cup trophies in their cabinet, more than any other nation. However, they do not appear to be entirely invincible.

The US may have started this campaign with a decisive 13-0 victory over Thailand. But the team has been less than convincing in recent matches, their spirits apparently flagging. Top scorer Alex Morgan has been surprisingly scoreless since her five-goal opening game. And they were in serious trouble in their last match, a tightly won 2-1 victory over Spain after disputed penalties.

“From where we were four years ago, and where France was four years ago, I think both of us are much stronger teams. I think just the women’s game in general has grown tremendously,” said US star and co-captain Megan Rapinoe. “I guess the task for each team is to be the team that is growing as fast as the game is, keeping up on that and even being the one that is pushing the game forward.”

Rapinoe has herself helped promote the anticipation of this game. She engaged in something of a spat with none other than the US President himself this week when she said she did not plan to visit The White House if invited.

And then to add fuel to the fire, there is the weather. France is in the middle of a record-breaking heatwave. The forecast calls for 30°C in Paris at the start of the match. Weary legs will feel even heavier.

Kick-off is at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris at 9pm local time.

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