COMMENT

The United States are a contradiction. As a team, they are difficult to like, cynical, ruthless and tough to beat, they make no attempt to hide their arrogance and are not afraid to deploy the dark arts.

But, as a group of women, it is impossible not to admire them. They are strong, powerful, elite athletes who not only form the strongest squad at this World Cup, but are also beacons of light in the battle for equality and social justice in the US. They are more than just a team, they represent something far more important in a world where the views of women are still too frequently ignored by men in power. They never tire of winning matches, relentlessly driven to be the best, but they fight for more than that at home.

They've become a symbol for women's liberation, for feminism writ large.

It is not just their co-captain, Megan Rapinoe, who uses her status to shine a light on social injustice. Rapinoe purposefully picked a fight with President Donald Trump in the middle of the tournament when she said she would refuse an invitation to the White House if they won the World Cup and followed it up by scoring twice to knock out hosts France.

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US players celebrate after winning the Women's World Cup quarterfinal 2-1 at the Parc des Princes, in Paris. Photo / Michel Euler of AP
US players celebrate after winning the Women's World Cup quarterfinal 2-1 at the Parc des Princes, in Paris. Photo / Michel Euler of AP

The team stand together on so many issues, announcing on National Women's Day in March that they were taking legal action against their own federation as they earn less than the men's team, alleging "institutional gender discrimination".

When the federation effectively accused them of failing to understand the complexities of equal pay legislation, their response was: "We look forward to a trial after the World Cup."

As Bridget Gordon so powerfully wrote on blogging website SB Nation ahead of the semi-final against England: "They've become a symbol for women's liberation, for feminism writ large.

"Wins for the USWNT are seen as symbolic wins for all American women, who still struggle for respect, self-determination, and even basic legal rights.

"In that sense, the fight between the USWNT and the federation exposes how little has changed in the broader fight for equal rights and against gender discrimination. US Soccer, and their corporate partners, market the team as a group of bad-ass warrior women, then insist in closed boardrooms that paying those women on equal terms with their male counterparts is simply not feasible."

In the US, more people follow the women's national team than their male counterparts, but the highest-paid male player earns nearly $200,000 (£158,000) more than the women's equivalent. The US Soccer Federation, which is believed to have cash reserves of more than $150 million, points to the fact that Fifa offers more prize money for men's competitions, as does Concacaf, which it believes explain the reasons for the disparity in earnings.

These are all things the female players wish to challenge. Should they succeed, it will put pressure on other football associations and federations to follow suit.

United States' Abby Dahlkemper, left, and Megan Rapinoe share a laugh during training. Photo / Laurent Cipriani of AP
United States' Abby Dahlkemper, left, and Megan Rapinoe share a laugh during training. Photo / Laurent Cipriani of AP

It is not the first time the US team have taken to the courts. In 2015, they launched legal action against Fifa after artificial pitches were used for the World Cup in Canada, which they claimed increased chances of injury and would never have been tolerated at the men's World Cup. They lost the case, but it is highly unlikely Fifa will repeat the experiment.

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Everyone in Europe will be hoping England win in Lyon tonight, but there are plenty of reasons to hope the USWNT are victorious elsewhere.