PARIS (Reuters) - They came in their numbers and America’s ‘soccer moms’ - and dads and sons and daughters - played their part on a night when the highest profile game of the women’s World Cup delivered a big-time atmosphere.
The United States emerged with a 2-1 win over France to book a place in the semi-finals against England on Tuesday in Lyon but Friday’s win was about much more than simply the defending champions progressing to the last four.
The stars and stripes of the American flag flickered across the tightly-packed stands, waved most vigorously by young girls and their supportive parents who took them halfway across the world to see their team.
“The atmosphere was incredible,” forward Christen Press told Reuters, “so much red, white and blue you couldn’t even tell whose was whose.
“(It was) everything that you would want from a World Cup match.”
While American fans have made every match feel like a home one for the U.S. players, on Friday there were more than 45,000 opposition supporters to contend with.
Despite being outnumbered, they made themselves heard.
“Our fans were amazing,” Megan Rapinoe said in the post-game news conference. “They screamed their little hearts out.”
A long line of American jerseys — two-goal Rapinoe’s and forward Alex Morgan’s the favorites — began arriving for the game as early as four hours before kick-off.
U.S. goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher said the support from family and fans was key.
“I think you can feel that — and feel that bit of calm,” she said.
“That’s what it’s all about. It’s a great energy, it’s a great atmosphere.”
For coach Jill Ellis, the whole occasion, coupled with the action on the field, made it unique.
“That was the most intense match I have ever been a part of,” she said.
The quality of the American play may not have always been the most attractive for neutral observers but Ellis felt the context of the match, yet another sign of the growth of women’s soccer, more than compensated.
“In terms of what that game represented, I think tonight was as pretty as I’ve seen”
Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Peter Rutherford