It was a magnificent night of football in Nice as France beat Norway 2-1.
The game puts the World Cup hosts top of the group and gives them a great chance to win
1. God bleeds
There’s a line in Iron Man 2 when Ivan Vanko sits defeated in a prison cell but still says to Tony Stark “if you can make God bleed, then people will cease to believe in him. Then there will be blood in the water, and the sharks will come,” and Norway know that even though they lost this game, they definitely made God bleed.
Wendie Renard’s display against South Korea would have been terrifying for any French opponents. It was perhaps even more terrifying than what the USA did to Thailand. Renard is the tallest woman at the tournament and in addition to her physical gifts she put on a complete display of technical excellence. People were afraid. But after she turned Isabell Herlovsen’s cross into her own net she betrayed a moment of true, humbling morality.
God had been cut, and now the only question is will France’s subsequent opponents approach Renard as minnows with fear in their hearts? Or will they smell the blood in the water and swarm like sharks? Time will tell.
2. Valérie Gauvin is just in time
Valérie Gauvin was late for training before France’s opening game against South Korea, and as a result she was dropped by Corinne Diacre. She watched as her team-mates won handsomely without her, but they did look a bit awkward up-front. So she was inserted back up-top for the game against Norway and it was just as well. Gauvin had a transformative effect on the French attack. Suddenly the whole side looked more fluid than against South Korea (where it was only their overwhelming quality which saw them through).
Now it wasn’t just that they were better than Norway, their whole attack was structured with more intelligence and they routinely created chances against a quality Norway defence. Then when France needed a goal, who do you think stepped up?
Amel Majri peeled a gorgeous cross in and it was Gauvin who glided away from her marker and finished firmly with a left-footed volley. It was a stunning goal and a great way to ignite the second half and proved just what Gauvin can bring to this France team if deployed up-top.
3. Graham Hansendependencia
There’s a phrase which people sometimes use in Spanish football to describe Barcelona: “Messidependencia,” basically it means dependence on Lionel Messi (obviously) and it’s a pejorative for the side, hinting that they can’t do anything without their talisman. Well, Norway appear to have the same problem with Caroline Graham Hansen. In Norway’s first game, Graham Hansen was a sensation. Utterly unplayable. Nine out of 13 dribbles completed doesn’t do justice to how elegance and effortless she was against Nigeria.
Against France, however, she was ghostly quiet. Les Bleues denied her the ball by dominating possession and staying on the front-foot, and then by forcing the ball into areas where she wasn’t. Any side is going to struggle if their best player is neutralised but it was worrying how little Norway managed to trouble France without their star. Of course, they could always argue that she needs just one chance.
The one time Graham Hansen got 1v1 against Wendie Renard she tied the defence up in knots and was only just stopped. She’s class, but Norway need to watch out because their attack is too easily nullified.
4. The referees are consistent
When Ingrid Engen’s foot came up and scythed the ball away from Marion Torrent, her foot rode up and smashed the Frenchwoman in the knee. It was a horrible impact but clearly an accident, and would perhaps be a harsh award of a penalty. But the play went to VAR and there it was ruled a penalty and a yellow for Engen. Harsh, right? Wrong. Leaving aside whether the follow-through can be enough to concede a penalty, what we want most from referees is consistency. And here we got just that.
Earlier in the tournament Nothando Vilakazi fouled Lucia Garcia in much the same way that Engen hit Torrent, and that decision went to VAR review and was awarded a penalty and a yellow for Vilakazi (a second yellow as it turns out).
We can debate about whether or not it was a penalty all day long, what can’t be denied is that the referees are being consistent, which is all you can ask for.
5. France improved, and can still get better
It’s absurd, really, to ask France to improve from their devastating opening display against South Korea. But that is exactly what they did against Norway, a vastly superior opponent. France were supreme in Nice, playing with more harmony and focus than they did in the World Cup’s opening match.
Their attack was better structured, with Valérie Gauvin bring shape and structure to the front line and allowing Kadidiatou Diani to play on the right-flank where she was absolutely sensational. This meant that Delphine Cascarino could come off the bench, with her lightning quick pace and dribbling skills to really open the game up in its final stages. Yet France can still do much better than this.
It must be a great boost to Diacre’s confidence to know that her team has played really well in their first two games, won their first two games, but can also get so much better in the subsequent two (at minimum) games. France’s execution in the final third was still lacking as players aren’t on the same wavelength. Cascarino coming on should have seen the score balloon by at least one or two goals, but instead France didn’t manage to get even more one.
With sharper decision-making in attack and less individual blunders at the back, France are perfectly poised to get better with each passing game at the 2019 World Cup, and that only bodes well for their chances of winning the whole thing.