REIMS • Come Saturday, the Women's World Cup will have been winnowed from 24 teams to four.
And the only certainty, on Friday, is that either France, the host nation, or the United States, the tournament's three-time champions, will be gone.
That is the inevitable outcome after the US toiled to a 2-1 victory over Spain on Monday in Reims, playing their ugliest but most resilient game yet to clinch a spot in the quarter-finals.
Their reward is a date with France, whose players weathered their own trial the night before in beating Brazil by the same score.
In so many respects, this all-too-soon clash is a pity, pitting the tournament's two best teams and top ticket sellers, whose players have combined to score 30 goals while conceding just three.
But in the view of American forward Megan Rapinoe, however, it is cause for celebration.
After burying two penalty kicks against Spain to avert what would have been the greatest upset in US women's football, she was positively beside herself over the prospect of taking on France at the Parc des Princes in Paris.
"Hopefully, it's a spectacle. An absolute media circus. I hope it's huge and crazy, because that's what it should be," she said, when asked whether the clash was too soon.
"It's going to be incredible for the women's game. You have two heavy hitters meeting in the knockout rounds and this is everything you want. These are the biggest games you dream about as a kid."
However, the favourites will have to improve their game after being pushed all the way by Spain, whose supporters reacted furiously after the Americans were awarded a second spot kick for what appeared to be a soft foul by Virginia Torrecilla on Rose Lavelle.
The distraught Spanish midfielder later railed at the decision, ratified by the video assistant referee, claiming the officials "blew for that penalty because it was the United States". Insisting she "didn't touch her", Torrecilla, whose side had equalised through Jennifer Hermoso just 169 seconds after the US' opener, said: "I am sure they gave that penalty because it was the USA, the best team in the world. If it had been in the other area, it would not have been punished."
Goals scored by quarter-final opponents France and the United States in eight games, with three conceded.
Foul count, with Spain the main offenders, although there was only one yellow card apiece.
Lavelle, though, brushed off the complaints, reiterating that "a foul's a foul".
"Sometimes you have to win ugly and you have to dig deep," she added. "That whole game was all about grit and how much we could handle when things weren't going our way. It honestly is a big character-builder for us."
Of France, she is relishing the opportunity to exact revenge for their 3-1 friendly defeat in January, the last time they met.
The US midfielder said: "They're a great team, technical and fast. It's going to be a great match-up. It could easily be a finals game.
"No disrespect to any other team. It's two very strong teams with a lot of very good players."
Stina Blackstenius scored the only goal of a cagey match as Sweden beat Canada 1-0 in Paris to set up a quarter-final meeting with Germany in Rennes on Saturday.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, WASHINGTON POST