PARIS (Reuters) - If you are going to make yourself the center of attention, particularly in the often bitterly hostile world of modern American politics, you better be on your game.
United States winger Megan Rapinoe was in the spotlight again on Friday after a week in which she was the target of critical tweets from U.S. President Donald Trump, having said she would not visit the White House if they won the World Cup.
With the pressure on — her team facing the hosts in front of 45,000 fans at a packed Parc des Princes in the quarter-final of the tournament — this time Rapinoe let her feet do the talking.
The 33-year-old Californian produced two clinical finishes to help her side secure a 2-1 win and a semi-final against England in Lyon on Tuesday.
Rapinoe wasted no time in making an impact — drilling in a low free kick through a crowded penalty area to open the scoring in the fifth minute.
Then, with the U.S. struggling to contain waves of French attacks, she kept her cool to convert a low cross from Tobin Heath in the 65th minute and put the game beyond the hosts.
“I’m still stressed from the game. We were under the pump a lot..., all the second half,” said Rapinoe.
“You have to give it up to France. They outplayed us in terms of having the ball. We were so good defensively. We took our chances and hit them where it hurt.
“This is what it’s all about. We’d have loved to play nicer, but we now have England and we move on. This is so special to beat the host nation in the Parc des Princes; you can’t ask for any more than this.”
Her team mate Alex Morgan said that Rapinoe had been “on fire” and — having scored twice from penalties in the previous round against Spain — there is no doubt that the veteran has become the key for Jill Ellis’s side.
Ellis had no concerns that all the media and political attention would have impacted negatively on Rapinoe’s performance.
“It’s almost like it just feeds her. She’s just a big personality, both on and off the pitch,” said the coach.
“She’s a big-time player. And I think the bigger stage the more she’s going to respond. If anything, this stuff — I wouldn’t say it bounces off her — I think it even pushes her forward.”
Rapinoe is now joint top scorer in the tournament with five goals and her ability to ghost into space, operating in a relatively free role on the left, has proved crucial.
The row with Trump provoked predictable online reactions from both sides of the political divide.
It also left some wondering why the Americans were talking about post-final celebrations ahead of a tough game in the last eight.
Yet there was no hint of presumptuousness in Rapinoe’s answer when she was asked if she was already thinking about the final on July 7.
“No, not at all. We have a very good English side (next), who have some good players. They strolled through their quarter-final and had an extra day, so have got some rest in their legs,” she said about England’s 3-0 win over Norway on Thursday.
“We have a huge task ahead of us. They’re one of the big girls of the game. We’ll enjoy this tonight. Then all eyes towards England.”
Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Toby Davis