By Alan Baldwin
LONDON (Reuters) – If champions United States are most people’s tip to win the women’s World Cup, then hosts France are the favorites’ favorites.
U.S. co-captain Megan Rapinoe told reporters at the Tottenham Hotspur training facility in North London on Wednesday that France now held that tag, and head coach Jill Ellis could only agree.
“I think they (France) are, in my opinion, the favorites for sure,” said former Olympique Lyonnais player Rapinoe, who is now with Seattle Reign as she heads to her third World Cup.
“And I don’t say that to play mind games.
“They are a fantastic team, they’re home, they’re going to have obviously a home crowd with them every time and we felt that in the last World Cup even though it was in Canada,” added the attacking midfielder.
“I feel like all the pressure is on them and we’re just here to play and enjoy ourselves and try to do as well as we can.”
Rapinoe made the distinction, however, between the favorites and who she would back to win, which was naturally her own side.
“I still back us over anyone,” she added.
The tournament starts on Saturday with the semi-finals and July 7 final to be staged in Lyon, whose home club are historically the country’s most successful female side.
The United States, in 1999, are still the only team to have won the Cup as hosts.
Ellis, who led the team to their third success in 2015, said this would be the hardest because the women’s game had moved on to another level.
She said it would all come down to who had the most belief and hunger, and France — whose men’s team won the 2018 World Cup in Russia — have plenty of that.
“I would agree (with Rapinoe),” said the British-born coach. “France is a very good team, we’ve purposely played over there in January and when you get a home crowd behind you that is a big advantage.
“But with that comes also the pressure of delivering. I think there’s a lot of good teams in this tournament that are capable of finding their way to the podium.”
Versatile defender Crystal Dunn, whose husband Pierre is French, said England had shown notable gains in fitness, pace and athleticism but Spain were the team to have grabbed her attention.
“I’m a huge fan of Spain, she said. “Spain is the team to really shock a lot of people in this World Cup.
“I say this because their youth have been incredible and I am a big advocate for youth development…I’ve watched a lot of U-20 World Cups and they are something to watch.
“Their youth look like they can beat top full international teams.”
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Toby Davis)