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U.S. Women Defeat France In Hard-Fought Quarterfinal Victory


The U.S. soccer team showed yet again why it's the best team at the Women's World Cup in a hard-fought quarterfinal victory over host France. For the Americans and their fans, it was a thrilling win that lived up to the hype of the pregame buildup. And with today's 2-1 victory, the U.S. moves on, and the French team is done. Among those in Paris watching the game in the stadium was NPR's Melissa Block. She joins us now. Hey there, Melissa.


CORNISH: Holy smokes, this was a good game. What was it like to be in the stadium?

BLOCK: It was amazing. There were about 46,000 people, a sellout crowd. You know, the U.S. flag - a lot of red, white blue - but the French flag blue, white and red. So the whole stadium was just a scene of the exact same colors in different configurations. And, man, the French were loud until the U.S. scored early in the game, Megan Rapinoe on a free kick that went right into the net. And the energy from the French side just kind of got sucked out of the room, out of the stadium.

And then when she scored again later on, boy, they were defeated. They got a second wind late in the game with their defender Wendie Renard on a header. But final score - 2-1 U.S. France is out, and their team was unconsolable - inconsolable on the field after the game, in tears. I mean, look. They're the host country. And this was a marquee lineup. And for them to lose this early is really, really a shame. They're an excellent team.

CORNISH: You described this as a marquee lineup. And I know there were many who felt like this game actually should have been the final, not the quarterfinal. Why?

BLOCK: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, this is - chalk this up to FIFA's way of determining the seeding and the brackets. And for these two top teams - I mean, the U.S. first seed, France number four - to be playing this early in the quarterfinals and for France to be done is just really a tragedy. I mean, there's no reason these two teams shouldn't be playing in the semis or the final. As it is now, the U.S. goes on to play England in the semi. And we're still waiting for results in the next couple of days - and actually tomorrow - of Italy and the Netherlands and then Sweden and Germany.

CORNISH: Stepping back for a moment, there were questions about the U.S. team after this somewhat shaky performance against Spain in the last game. Does this performance put that to rest?

BLOCK: Yeah. I mean, it's interesting. There was a lot of second-guessing of coach Jill Ellis and her lineup that she had in the last game and some pretty shaky defense work, front line that was just not getting on the attack as they should have been. It was the exact same lineup in this game, and they performed so much better - the same second-guessing going in. I mean, people were really concerned that she hadn't changed tactics, but it paid off. And Megan Rapinoe - again, two goals in this game, two goals in the last game. She is the player of the game. And she's just outstanding to watch, just a phenomenal performance in both of these last two games.

CORNISH: So France was obviously a tough competitor, but now the U.S. is going to face third-ranked England in a match on Tuesday in the semifinals. So this tournament is not going to get any easier.

BLOCK: No, and England looked super strong the other day when they were playing against Norway. They're a really powerful team. And the other four teams still to play in the quarterfinals are all, you know, top ranked. I mean, this is no cakewalk for the U.S. And look. The U.S. has made it into the semifinals in the last seven World Cups. So if they had gone down today, it would have been historic - didn't happen. But, boy - a tough fight from Spain the other day and from France today.

CORNISH: One more thing. There's been a lot of conversation about the pay inequity, especially for the U.S. women's soccer team. Can you talk about just how big the Women's World Cup is this year?

BLOCK: Yeah. I mean, it's fascinating to see Audie, because, there is this fight going on back home. The U.S. women are suing U.S. Soccer for gender discrimination. And you look at this tournament, and - record TV audiences across Europe - in Italy, in England, in France - and big crowds, at least here in Paris. There are going to be sellout crowds in Lyon for the semifinal and final.

And you have to ask. I mean, for countries that have not invested in women's soccer - and there are many of them - they have to be looking at this and seeing not just a great game but a really powerful audience that they could be tapping into. And if they're not, they're crazy.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Melissa Block in Paris. Melissa, thanks so much.

BLOCK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As special correspondent and guest host of NPR's news programs, Melissa Block brings her signature combination of warmth and incisive reporting. Her work over the decades has earned her journalism's highest honors, and has made her one of NPR's most familiar and beloved voices.