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Dilemma for France as potential US clash looms

By Reuters - Jun 14,2019 - Last updated at Jun 16,2019

France’s forward Valerie Gauvin celebrates after scoring a goal against Norway during their France 2019 Women’s World Cup Group A football match in Nice, France, on Wednesday (AFP photo by Christophe Simon)

PARIS — France’s last group game against Nigeria at the women’s World Cup will be a double-edged sword as a draw will see them advance as top of Group A, but will also send them towards a likely quarter-final clash against the United States. 

Les Bleus laboured to a 2-1 win against 1995 champions Norway on Wednesday after thrashing South Korea in the tournament’s opening game last Friday. 

The US are widely expected to also progress top of their group after claiming a record 13-0 victory against Thailand. The draw shows that Group A and Group F winners, if it wins its last-16 match, will face each other for a place in the last four on June 28 in Paris. 

“We saw them against Thailand. Very strong team, we know that. But it’s still far away and we feel that the fans are behind us, they’re pushing us. We’ll see,” said defender Marion Torrent. 

The prospect of facing the three-time world champions does not seem to worry coach Corinne Diacre, who does not want to see past the June 17 match against African champions Nigeria in Rennes. 

“I take it game by game. We want a perfect record,” she said. 

“We are still underdogs [in the competition]. We’re not favourites at all.” 

France, however, beat the US 3-1 in its last encounter in January and at home, the support for Les Bleus has been fulsome. 

They were 34,872 fans at the Allianz Riviera for an official capacity of 35,624 on Wednesday and the Parc des Princes was sold out for the opener last week. 

The French team have also attracted record viewers, with 9.4 million watching on TF1 on Wednesday after 9.83 million tuned in for the opening game. 

With others watching the games on Canal Plus, more than 10 million watched both France matches.

Meanwhile, US captain Megan Rapinoe on Wednesday defended her under-fire team mates’ exuberant celebrations during their record 13-0 World Cup victory over Thailand in Reims. 

Opinion was split following the one-sided match, with some applauding the Americans for staying focused throughout, while others felt they should have eased off or not celebrated their goals with such enthusiasm.

Former US international Taylor Twellman, now a TV analyst, hit out at the players for their celebrations against beleaguered opponents.

“Celebrating goals [like #9] leaves a sour taste in my mouth like many of you. Curious to see if anyone apologises for this postgame,” Twellman tweeted to his 327,000 followers.

Rapinoe, who celebrated her team’s ninth goal by sliding to the ground before leaping into the arms of the US substitutes on the sidelines, told Fox Sports she understood the criticism “in part”, but defended her teammates.

“If anyone wants to come at our team for not doing the right thing, not playing the right way, not being the right ambassador for the sport, they can come at us,” Rapinoe said. “I think our only crime was an explosion of joy last night.

“If our crime is joy, then we’ll take that.”

Co-Captain Alex Morgan told ESPN that “you can never have everyone love you,” when asked about some of the critical comments levelled at her team for the on-field celebrations and the 13-0 drubbing.

“For the celebrations — these are goals that we have dreamt of our entire life,” Morgan said. “I couldn’t have dreamt of scoring five goals in a World Cup.

“I’m happy just ignoring those comments.”

The US’s next World Cup match is against Chile on Sunday at Paris’ Parc des Princes.

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