LYON, France (Reuters) - “We’re going to smash it!” declared United States supporter Laurie in sunny Lyon on Tuesday, hours before the world champions face off against England in the semi-final of the women’s World Cup.
But despite vast swathes of Americans in the southern French city, clad in stars and stripes and some even braving face paint in the searing 30C degree heat, there was plenty of anxiety that the U.S.’s dominance of women’s soccer could be about to end.
Even Laurie’s husband William was not as confident as she was about the team who have a record three World Cups and four Olympic gold medals to their name, having made the trip via London from Boston.
“I don’t know, I think it’s going to be very competitive. England has a very strong defensive team. (Ellen) White is a very good scorer, so I think it’s going to be close,” he told Reuters.
Many of the British tabloids in the build-up to the game had pondered whether the U.S. side were too arrogant, in view of their raucous celebrations after each goal in their record 13-0 thrashing of Thailand at the start of the tournament.
But there was a healthy dose of confidence from the other side too, especially at the official FIFA fan park at Place Bellecour in Lyon, where a spirited rendition of England anthem “Three Lions” could be heard across the square as fans gathered.
The chorus of “Football’s coming home...”, originally taken from a song recorded in 1996, became a staple for England fans last year at the men’s World Cup in Russia when that side also reached the last four.
“I’m pretty confident, I think we’re going to win 2-1,” said Annie from Manchester, who along with friends Mary and Eleanor had arrived in Lyon having bought their tickets for the semi-finals and final almost six months ago.
“We got tickets on the day they came out. We were pretty confident England were going to make the semis and now here we are!” she added.
The trio admitted to being a little intimidated however by the sheer number of U.S. fans out in force. Out of the 1.05 million tickets sold for the month-long competition so far, more than 100,000 were snapped up by American fans, according to Erwan Le Prevost, director of the World Cup Local Organising Committee.
Despite the distance to travel, including a number of flights and connections, the pull of supporting the U.S. team transcends simply cheering on anyone wearing the stars and stripes.
“I like how political the team is and how open they are about sharing their experience of women’s soccer players in the U.S. and being a model to young girls,” said Ashley, who travelled from Detroit via Amsterdam to Lyon for the match.
“They were a model to me growing up, and I hope that continues in the future.”
While there was tough talk between supporters on their way to the almost 60,000-seat Stade de Lyon, it was always shared with a smile as the pleasant and family-friendly atmosphere around the tournament continued.
That may change once kick off arrives, however, as England seek to break America’s hegemony of the game.
Reporting by Christian Radnedge; Editing by Hugh Lawson