Megan Rapinoe's goals beat France, send U.S. to Women's World Cup semis

It was tense. Pressure-packed. And anything but easy. But the most anticipated women’s soccer game in two decades wasn’t supposed to be. And the U.S. won it anyway.

The Americans beat France 2-1 in Paris on Friday to advance to the 2019 Women’s World Cup semifinals. Their hero?

Megan Rapinoe.

Of course.

On the biggest stage, in “the final before the final,” a quarterfinal showdown between the sport’s two best teams, it had to be Megan Rapinoe.

At the end of a frenzied week, her two goals set up a meeting with England on Tuesday (3 p.m. ET, Fox). They put the U.S. two wins away from a second consecutive world title. And they punctuated an absolutely glorious night for the sport.

Megan Rapinoe creates, and scores, early goal

The U.S. opener wasn’t all Megan Rapinoe. But the lavender-haired superstar enabled the sequence that led to the early goal. And then she scored it.

It was Rapinoe’s quick thinking that led to the free kick. The ball had gone out of play on the left side. Rapinoe recouped it and, with urgency and might befitting a World Cup quarterfinal, hurled it down the line to Alex Morgan. Morgan, who had anticipated Rapinoe’s smart play, got in behind the French defense. Griedge Mbock brought her down – a yellow card, and a foul on the left edge of the box.

From the ensuing free kick ...

Rapinoe’s low delivery slipped untouched, through a couple French legs, into the back of the net. It was fortunate, but also expertly placed, down the avenue between wall and defensive line, where a deflection can also find the back of the net. Instead, the mass of bodies blinded goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi. And the Americans wheeled away in celebration.

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USWNT highlights from the Women's World Cup
LYON, FRANCE - JULY 07: Sari Van Veenendaal of the Netherlands reaches for the ball as Rose Lavelle of the USA scores her team's second goal during the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France Final match between The United States of America and The Netherlands at Stade de Lyon on July 07, 2019 in Lyon, France. (Photo by Richard Heathcote - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)
LYON, FRANCE - JULY 07: Alex Morgan of the USA is fouled by Stefanie Van der Gragt of the Netherlands leading to a penalty during the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France Final match between The United States of America and The Netherlands at Stade de Lyon on July 07, 2019 in Lyon, France. (Photo by Maja Hitij/Getty Images)
LYON, FRANCE - JULY 07: Megan Rapinoe of the USA celebrates with teammate Alex Morgan after scoring her team's first goal during the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France Final match between The United States of America and The Netherlands at Stade de Lyon on July 07, 2019 in Lyon, France. (Photo by Alex Caparros - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)
LYON, FRANCE - JULY 07: Megan Rapinoe of the USA celebrates with teammates after scoring her team's first goal during the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France Final match between The United State of America and The Netherlands at Stade de Lyon on July 07, 2019 in Lyon, France. (Photo by Naomi Baker - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)
United States' Alex Morgan, left, competes for the ball against France's Elise Bussaglia during the Women's World Cup quarterfinal soccer match between France and the United States at the Parc des Princes, in Paris, Friday, June 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
United States goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher (1) deflects the ball away from France's Valerie Gauvin during the Women's World Cup quarterfinal soccer match between France and the United States at the Parc des Princes, in Paris, Friday, June 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
United States' Megan Rapinoe celebrates after scoring her side's second goal during the Women's World Cup quarterfinal soccer match between France and the United States at the Parc des Princes, in Paris, Friday, June 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
Players of England celebrate after winning the Women's World Cup quarterfinal soccer match between Norway and England at the Oceane stadium in Le Havre, France, Thursday, June 27, 2019. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
United States' Kelley O Hara leaps over Sweden's Kosovare Asllani during the Women's World Cup Group F soccer match between Sweden and the United States at Stade Océane, in Le Havre, France, Thursday, June 20, 2019. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 16: Julie Ertz of USA #8 celebrates her goal with Mallory Pugh, Lindsey Horan, Morgan Brian during the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France group F match between USA and Chile at Parc des Princes stadium on June 16, 2019 in Paris, France. (Photo by Jean Catuffe/Getty Images)
LE HAVRE, FRANCE - JUNE 20: Lindsey Horan of the USA scores her team's first goal the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France group F match between Sweden and USA at Stade Oceane on June 20, 2019 in Le Havre, France. (Photo by Alex Grimm/Getty Images)
United States' Carli Lloyd, center, celebrates with teammates after scoring their side's third goal during the Women's World Cup Group F soccer match between United States and Chile at Parc des Princes in Paris, France, Sunday, June 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
Chile goalkeeper Claudia Endler lunges for the ball to make a safe during the Women's World Cup Group F soccer match between United States and Chile at Parc des Princes in Paris, France, Sunday, June 16, 2019. US won 3-0. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
United States' Carli Lloyd celebrates after scoring the opening goal during the Women's World Cup Group F soccer match between the United States and Chile at the Parc des Princes in Paris, Sunday, June 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
United States' Carli Lloyd, left, celebrates with teammates after scoring the opening goal during the Women's World Cup Group F soccer match between United States and Chile at Parc des Princes in Paris, France, Sunday, June 16, 2019. Lloyd scored twice in US' 3-0 victory. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
United States' Megan Rapinoe, right, congratulates teammate Alex Morgan after scoring her fifth goal during the Women's World Cup Group F soccer match between the United States and Thailand at the Stade Auguste-Delaune in Reims, France, Tuesday, June 11, 2019. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)
United States' Alex Morgan, centre, scores her team's fifth goal during the Women's World Cup Group F soccer match between the United States and Thailand at the Stade Auguste-Delaune in Reims, France, Tuesday, June 11, 2019. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)
REIMS, FRANCE - JUNE 11: Mallory Pugh of USA shots to goal during the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France group F match between USA and Thailand at Stade Auguste Delaune on June 11, 2019 in Reims, France. (Photo by Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)
REIMS, FRANCE - JUNE 11: Megan Rapinoe of United States of America celebrates with the supporters after the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France group F match between USA and Thailand at Stade Auguste Delaune on June 11, 2019 in Reims, France. (Photo by TF-Images/Getty Images)
REIMS, FRANCE - JUNE 11: Mallory Pugh of the USA celebrates after scoring her team's eleventh goal during the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France group F match between USA and Thailand at Stade Auguste Delaune on June 11, 2019 in Reims, France. (Photo by Cathrin Mueller - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)
REIMS, FRANCE - JUNE 11: Final score on the scoreboard after the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France group F match between USA and Thailand at Stade Auguste Delaune on June 11, 2019 in Reims, France. (Photo by TF-Images/Getty Images)
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A balanced first half

The U.S. looked far more prepared for the occasion early on. More accustomed to the pressure and nerves. “Some teams visit pressure,” Ellis had said a day earlier. We live there.”

In the opening minute, Rapinoe danced by a couple French defenders and poked a ball into the path of Julie Ertz, whose 20-yard drive was held by Bouhaddi.

After the goal, the U.S. threatened down the left side again. Rapinoe played a one-two with Sam Mewis. The U.S. goalscorer cut inside and fed Morgan, whose shot was tame.

The U.S. attack, overall, was very left-sided. Tobin Heath was invisible once again. And as the half wore on, France grew into it. Kadi Diani was a constant menace down the right wing – though U.S. left back Crystal Dunn handled her remarkably well, given the circumstances.

And the U.S. center backs were as solid as could be. Becky Sauerbrunn, whose mistake gifted Spain a goal four days earlier, was almost flawless. She stuck to French striker Valerie Gauvin, blocking one of her efforts at the top of the area.

The Americans failed to find the possession that had allowed them to control previous games against weaker opposition. But they sat in a defined 4-1-4-1 defensive shape, and were relatively comfortable.

Rapinoe doubles the U.S. lead

The U.S. began the second half as it had the first. Mewis forced Bouhaddi into a diving save. Heath pounced on the rebound and drew a kick-save out of Bouhaddi with the follow-up. From the subsequent corner, Morgan pounded a shot off Henry’s ankle. Two minutes later, the U.S. again nearly found a second goal.

Over the next 20 minutes, France threatened, and looked like the better team. In the 58th minute, a back-post cross sent Alyssa Naeher scrambling across her goal line. The ball fell to French star Eugenie Le Sommer, but her shot rippled the outside of the net.

Moments later, Diani got in behind Dunn. But the lightening-quick American defender recovered to make a lunging block.

And then it was Pinoe time once again. Or, rather, it was front-three time. Morgan slid in Heath. Heath crossed behind Mewis. Rapinoe, lurking in space on the weak side, slammed her finish through a crowd.

Late nerves

The goal appeared to send the U.S. to the semis. With less than 15 minutes remaining, Heath had the ball in the back of the net, but the goal was disallowed by the tightest of offside calls.

Then, in the 81st minute, towering French center back Wendie Renard made it 2-1.

Mewis, the tallest American player, had dropped into no-man’s land, and inadvertently kept the French goalscorer onside.

Minutes later, the French had a penalty appealed waved away by the referee. And the U.S. held on.

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Henry Bushnell is a features writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at henrydbushnell@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell, and on Facebook.

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