- France take on USA in the quarter-finals
- Les Bleues were knocked out by the Americans in the semis in 2011
- What was once an impossible task for the French has since become achievable
By Emma Hingant with France
“The president of the FFF [French Football Federation] said my objective was to get to the Final,” revealed France coach Corinne Diacre when announcing her 23-player squad for the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019™ on 2 May.
Nearly two months on, France remain on course to achieve that goal, having reached the quarter-finals. Lying in wait for them there are defending champions USA, for a tie eagerly awaited by fans and the media alike. While keen to make her side’s objectives clear, Diacre has also been nothing if not realistic about their chances.
“As of today, I don’t have any grounds for saying France will get beyond the quarter-finals and do better than in 2011,” she commented on the eve of the tournament. “That doesn’t mean to say we won’t be trying though.”
France’s best Women’s World Cup performance to date remains that run to the last four at Germany 2011, when they went out to USA, the only time the two nations have met in the history of the competition.
Winners in defeat
Having beaten England on penalties in the quarter-finals that year, the French went down 3-1 to the Americans, whose goals came from current squad members Lauren Cheney, Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan. Sonia Bompastor struck France’s solitary goal.
Eugenie Le Sommer, who has scored more goals than any other active France player, was a second-half substitute in that semi-final: “2011 was my first World Cup. It was an achievement for us just to be there, but to reach the semi-finals was amazing.”
Just being there is no longer enough for France, and with a World Cup on home soil, their state of mind has changed completely. Not a press conference goes by now without the words ‘Final’ and ‘7 July’ coming up, which begs the question: eight years on from that semi-final defeat, what are French hopes founded on?
To start with, both teams have changed much since that day. USA mainstays such as Wambach, Hope Solo and Shannon Boxx have all retired, while the backbone of the French line-up has also changed. Bompastor, Laura Georges, Sandrine Soubeyrand, Camille Abily, Elodie Thomis and Louisa Necib have all vacated the Bleues dressing room to make way for new leaders such as Wendie Renard and Le Sommer, both of whom were on the bench in the 2011 meeting. Meanwhile, current captain Amandine Henry and goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi, who has 144 caps to her name, did not even make the squad for Germany 2011.
Then there is the fact that the French are unbeaten against Jill Ellis’s charges in their last three meetings, with two wins and a draw, Les Bleues scoring three goals in those two victories.
“Under Bruno Bini [France coach at Germany 2011] not all the girls were professionals,” said Philippe Joly, Diacre’s assistant coach. “We had players who were working in all kinds of different jobs. Today, thanks to the fact they’re professional now, they can compete physically on an entirely different level. We’ve maybe got more resources to succeed now.”
Success in Friday’s match would allow the tournament hosts to stay on course for the final and would also confirm that French women’s football and its objectives have taken on a whole new dimension. Elise Bussaglia, who experienced that 2011 defeat at first hand, believes nevertheless that sights can be set even higher: “Real change will only come when we win a title.”