Can host nation France follow in the Men’s team’s footsteps?
The 2018 Blues
It was a night of dances, cheers, laughs, cries and even so much more. Perhaps the culmination of all human emotions, those we love and some not so much. One game, one football and one tournament bred all of them. Why not? It’s the biggest football showpiece in the realm of human kind, the FIFA World Cup. All of the high and mighty had descended upon Russia in June of 2018 with the simple aim of taking home the world cup gold. All the different skin colors, languages, creeds or religions of the final 32 nations present to contest for the ultimate prize was reduced to one. Goals. Those to outscore their opponents being the most fluent in the new language.
On that particular night, the climax of all fights, contests and contentions – France reigned supreme and perhaps changed the men’s football language to French, at least until Qatar 2022. Barcelona’s Samuel Umtiti drew first blood by ruthlessly heading the ball past Croatia’s Subasic from a resulting corner that led to a Mandzukic own goal. Of course the highlight therein was his sassy and missy like dance which he was so kind enough to repeat on several other occasions. Then Griezmann converted from the penalty spot after their European counterparts had pulled one back through Inter Milan’s Ivan Perisic. He too, turning the pitch into a dancefloor with a fortnite move, not the first by the departing Atletico Madrid forward. Mbappe danced like Mbappe as the French hit song suggested whereas Pogba didn’t actually dance when he found the back of the net on the night. After carefully placing a rebounded long range shot in the bulgy net and wrapping up the 4-2 win for Les Bleues, the Manchester United midfielder instead decided to lend an ear to his critics and silenced them with joy as he celebrated the all but certain France’s second ever world cup triumph.
That was fun, at least for the Frenchmen who were dancing their way into the history books with an emphatic 4-2 win in the final. Also crushing 32 dreams in the process, most apparent being the Croats who had impressively fought with sweat, blood and tears, against all odds, to reach their first ever FIFA World Cup final. But that’s part of the game we all love, when some rejoice, it’s almost certain that others will languish in despair of what could have been and wait for the chance to go again.
As good as all the above may sound, it’s certainly water under the bridge now. However, a new hunt is on the horizon and blank history books are going to be opened for keen writers to leave their mark. Same FIFA World Cup tournament but this time, it’s the women who get to have their say.
The 2019 Hunt
As luck would have it, it’s not only the winning spirit of 2018 that could boost Les Bleues towards an unprecedented world cup triumph, they also have the home advantage. All of the 24 finalists for this year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup will fly to France and play across nine different venues and cities for the single most important silverware in the community of women’s footballing nations. From the 7th of June to 7th of July 2019, the fight will be in France. Amongst those present, the three time and record winners in US Women’s National Team, Germany, Japan, England and the Netherlands are expected to mount a strong world cup title challenge. And of course, the host nation, whose prospects we shall exhaustively explore in the following paragraphs. If winning is merely a spirit passed by osmosis or any other means, the world cup one is most certainly circling in their home country. Putting aside fantasy, fairy-tale and butterflies in the stomach talk for a minute. Can the French Women’s team follow the footsteps of the men and really go all the way? What do the facts say?
Their four winds of a possible success
1.Ici Ce France
As the famous Paris St Germain’s mantra goes, Ici Ce Paris (Here is Paris), the French team can certainly boast of the home advantage. To start with, the French Women’s national team has lost only once on home soil since January of 2016, a 1- 0 defeat at the hands of Germany in February 2019, that was a record of over 24 matches without a loss before the Germans. They have not only been winning against the less heralded and learning to be experienced nations but whoever has dared to breach their fortress. Most recently, in January of this year as the finalists played friendlies in preparation for the upcoming June tournament, Les Bleues defeated the defending champions, USWNT, 3 – 1 in Lyon. Some commentators will probably argue that the Stars and the Stripes were short of two or three star players but the reality is that’s an integral part of football. And the French just don’t joke at home. Having won the past 9/10 matches at home, you certainly cannot put it past them to win seven more. Only seven wins separate them from the world cup gold.
2. An impressively progressive history
Les Bleues have been on the up since the turn of the millennium. Just like any other newly formed team, France had to patiently wait in its grind to become one of the most consistent and dangerous opponents in Europe. They failed to qualify for the first three organized FIFA Women’s World cup beginning in 1991 as well as six UEFA European Championships. Les Bleues have since become a consistent performer and a loathed opponent on the grand stage who have reached two of the three quarter-finals of the UEFA competition since 2000. In that same period, they also qualified for their first FIFA Women’s World Cup tournament in 2003, though failing to reach the same finals in 2007, they returned with a bang and recorded their best ever finish in the 2011 tourney. After defeating England on penalties in the quarter-finals, they came up short against USWNT in the semi-final who dismissed them 3-1 to book a final against eventual winners, Japan. One year later, they proved that their world cup exploits were no fluke as their reached the semi-finals of the 2012 London Summer Olympics again losing 2-1 to one of the big girls, Japan, in the semis. In the most recent world cup 2015 held in Canada, they were deluded of a semi-final berth after agonizingly losing 4-5 on penalties to the 2011 hosts, Germany in the quarters.
This brief journey into the history of women’s French football does tell us that they don’t choke on the big stage and a team that has been on the up since inception. They are yet to reach a world cup final, and there is no better place to do that or better yet win the tournament other than in their own backyard. Their current 4th placement on the FIFA Women’s Global Football teams ranking is no given and they will be eager to prove once more, that they bring the big game!
3. Momentum stemming from the pre-tourney friendlies
More often than not, success on grand stages hinges on momentum, passion and experience. We are guaranteed that France will not be short of any passion given their hunger for more substantial success and silverware while being backed by a home crowd who believe they can, having seen their male counterparts wing it in the 2018 Men’s FIFA World Cup in Russia. As for the experience, we will learn more of that a little later on.
The winds of momentum are also blowing full strength into their sails. Of the nine friendly matches played since September 2018 in preparation for the world up, France have won eight, losing only once to Germany. In that time, they scored a total of 31 goals and conceded only 4. Surely, you can understand their prospects much better now. They are no minnows, perhaps the favorite of favorites. Even more, among those defeated, are some of the successful and recent winners of the women’s world cup, USWNT and Japan with a 3-1 score-line against both. The heaviest wins were against Cameroon and Uruguay, scoring 6 goals in each match with no reply. Les Bleus are expected to blow away Thailand and China PR on the 25th and 31st of May as they close off a more than thorough and impressive world cup warm-up campaign.
4. The golden generation
It’s a thing in football, maybe in every other team sport. Time and time again, talented individuals are combined to form a competitive unit. However, of all the units assembled, there is that one which many onlookers refer to as the “golden generation.” That one has not just talented but exceptionally talented individuals. It became apparent at the 2013 UEFA Women’s Euro in Sweden where Les Bleus breezed past Spain, England and Russia to gain a first class entry into the quarter-finals. In the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup hosted by Canada, they were considered favorites and defeated England, 1-0 in their opening match. All of USWNT, Japan and England means they have gotten one over most of highly ranked teams in the tournament in recent years. Even defeating the first two, earlier this year as alluded in the preceding paragraphs.
They are known to play an attractive brand of football punctuated by dominating possession and yes, scoring loads of goals. Just as their men who emphatically lifted the world cup gold in 2018, the women too have benefited from France’s immigration laws that have overtime allowed them to assemble teams of individuals whose descent may not necessarily be French. The winning men’s team is a golden generation with the likes of Golden Boy Winner, Kylian Mbappe and a host of massively talented footballers playing in Europe’s best teams. In the same vein, there is also an equal chance that the women’s golden generation could be crowned champions in Lyon, come July 2019.
Endowed with the spirit of Lyon
This one, is more than just a factor of four as to why the Women’s World Cup gold may be heading to France. It is an entire spirit, a stand-alone pillar for Les Bleus’ world cup title bid.
Here’s a bit of trivia. The best group of players assembled anywhere in any sport at this juncture is inarguably Olympique Lyonnais Feminin. After winning their fourth successive UEFA Champions League title a few weeks ago, a sixth crown in 10 years, if they don’t personify dominance, nothing will. Real Madrid won three Champions League titles in a row but sucked domestically, the Golden State Warriors could win their third straight NBA Championships and the New England Patriots won the Super Bowl thrice in five years – but they all don’t come close to Lyon’s Women football team. Other than their European dominance, they have ridiculously won the French national title, 13 times in a row. They are just way too good and the best there is.
Now, guess what the feature city and stadium of the 2019 World Cup is? Stade de Lyon in Lyon. Possibly the mother city of women’s football around the globe. Check out the fixtures to be hosted by the stadium outlined in our FT Women’s World Cup Stadium Guide. The fans in Lyon definitely know how to get behind a women’s football team and will bring that to the table in pushing Les Bleus to victory.
Furthermore, Lyon has supplied a total of seven talented and experienced players who know how to win, to the French side. That means coach Corinne Diacre can have 2/3 of her team be a replica of Lyon’s dominate side if she chooses. These seven include goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi, defenders Amel Majri, Mbock Bathy Nka and the towering Wendie Renard, the vastly experienced midfielder and captain in Amandine Henry as well as forwards Delphine Cascarino and one of the best players in the world, Eugenie Le Sommer. France is endowed with the winning spirit of Lyon from the goalkeeper right up to the attackers, not forgetting the other exceptional women playing in top leagues around Europe.
It’s definitely game on and lights off for many who will come up against Les Bleus. But whether they will stand tall on the podium after all is said and done especially in the presence of the unrelenting USWNT, Japan, Germany and England – it remains somewhat a mystery.
France will kick-off their world cup campaign with a group game against the 11th ranked South Korea on the 7th of June before squaring off with the Ada Hegerberg-less Norway five days later. They will close off the group stage with Africa Women Cup of Nations champions and record-winners, Nigeria on the 12th of June in Rennes.