<
>

U.S. star Rapinoe: France team to beat at WWC

ENFIELD, England -- The United States doesn't leave its training camp in England for the Women's World Cup until the end of the week, but Megan Rapinoe suggested Wednesday that the favorite to win the tournament may already be on site.

The American captain, who previously played professionally for Lyon, said host France is the team to beat this summer.

"I think they are, in my opinion, the favorite, for sure," Rapinoe said. "I don't say that to play mind games. They're a fantastic team. They're home. They're going to have, obviously, a home crowd with them every time. We felt that in the last World Cup, even though it was in Canada, it felt like a home World Cup for us. In some of those tighter games, that was definitely a big boost for us.

"For me, I consider them the favorites and I feel like all the pressure is on them."

The U.S. enters the World Cup as the No. 1 team in FIFA's rankings, three spots ahead of France, and the defending tournament champion after winning its third title in 2015.

Asked if she had ever felt another team was the favorite in any of her previous major tournaments, spanning two World Cups and two Olympics, a grinning Rapinoe made a distinction between the label of tournament favorite and the team she thinks is going to win.

"I still back us over anyone, of course," Rapinoe said. "But I just think they have such a strong squad, and obviously it being a home World Cup just adds that little bit to them.

"I don't know if anyone else would consider them the favorite. I don't even know what they say about it. They're probably trying to deflect a lot of the pressure off them. But I think maybe the favorite by just a hair."

In England, bookmaker Ladbrokes on Wednesday had France as a slight favorite ahead of the U.S.

The United States was the last host to win the Women's World Cup, in 1999.

France reached the semifinals of the 2011 World Cup and 2012 Olympics, the best finishes in major tournaments for a team whose fortunes have improved dramatically over the past decade. Among the favorites in the 2015 World Cup, France was eliminated by Germany in a high-profile quarterfinal penalty shootout. Prior to 2011, France had qualified for just one World Cup.

Few opponents have posed more problems for the U.S. in recent years. France beat the U.S. 3-1 in January in Le Havre, where the Americans will play their third group game in this World Cup. In the SheBelieves Cup, France drew 1-1 against the U.S. in Harrison, New Jersey, in 2018 and routed the U.S. 3-0 in Washington, D.C., in 2017.

With the two teams on a possible collision course for a quarterfinal meeting this month, if each wins its respective group and first knockout game, Rapinoe dismissed any suggestion the U.S. might be better off trying to finish second in its group to avoid the French until later.

"I don't even think we would be able to understand how to play that game," Rapinoe said. "We'd have a trickery game plan, and we'd totally mess it up. You just want to have good vibes going in. I think when you start thinking too much of do this or get a certain opponent -- there's enough going on, it's difficult as it is to go through the group stage to play all of these games."

Rapinoe also reiterated Wednesday that whichever team wins the World Cup will not receive the prize money it deserves. While acknowledging progress in FIFA doubling the prize money from 2015 for the winning team, she lamented the wide disparity, more than $30 million, that remains between what the men's and women's winners receive.