After a sublime clash, France beat Brazil 2-1 after extra-time.
The match was an absolute hum-dinger as both sides went at it in a contest full of quality. In the end France triumphed after extra time, but what did we learn?
1. Captain Fantastic
Amandine Henry was all over the pitch against Brazil, much as she has been all tournament really. She scored a stunner in the opening game but has otherwise been doing the dirty work and moving the ball around the pitch for her team-mates and just keeping France on the up.
Except when it came time for someone to step up and win France the game, it was always going to be France’s Captain Fantastic. Not least because of nominative determinism. 13 years ago, Brazil played France at the men’s World Cup and the match was settled by Zinedine Zidane’s brilliant cross from the French left-flank for Amandine’s namesake Thierry Henry to run around the back and volley home with his right. Well in 2019 it was Amel Majri pinging a pearl of a cross from the French right-flank for Henry to run into space and stab the ball in with her left.
It was an enormous goal, a crucial match-swinging strike. Suddenly all of Brazil’s momentum had been shattered and France had the upper-hand. Henry returned to midfield, doing the dirty work again and making sure that France held on and walked out of the game as World Cup quarter-finalists.
2. Diani The Dribble Queen
Kadidiatou Diani is a force of nature unlike almost any other player at the World Cup. The Frenchwoman’s ability to run with the ball whilst simultaneously overpowering her opponents is a sight to behold. In truth no player should have this combination of power and skill, of pace and grace. It makes her a deadly, unstoppable weapon in the French attack.
The hosts had a lot of joy down both flanks as they attacked the space in, around and behind Brazil’s full-backs. But whilst Eugenie Le Sommer and Majri had to team-up to dice Leticia Santos; Diani was happily sending poor Tamires (and, indeed, everyone else) into a spin all by herself. That domination was something Brazil had no answer for and she created two goals (one getting ruled out) from the right with some delirious dribbling and deadly crossing.
France moved her infield as a late game change and that took a lot of her momentum away as she wasn’t receiving the ball on the half-turn ready to run into space but with her back to goal. This made her easier to contain, and took France’s momentum away. But she started the second half of extra-time wide on the right and it took just one minute for her to go on a powerful run that won the free-kick which ultimately won France the game. She is perpetually the difference.
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3. VAR drama
After the way it stained Sunday’s first quarter-final, VAR once again showed up to influence Brazil’s match against France. The issue once again appeared to be the application of the law rather than the nature of the law themselves. First we saw a Valerie Gauvin goal ruled out for, presumably, fouling the goalkeeper? It wasn’t really clear why the refs decided to disallow the goal after a brave bit of play from both Gauvin and Brazilian goalkeeper Barbara.
Then once again we saw a goal disallowed after a marginal offside, but this time VAR came to the rescue. Debinha made a superb surge down the left, racing onto a pass before whipping in a devastating low cross which forced a block from Wendie Renard, and when the ball fell for Thaysa the midfielder finished unerringly with her left. Initially Debinha was thought to be offside and the goal was ruled out, but VAR proved she was onside and the goal was allowed.
4. Mbock-Bathy’s block sets the stage
When you win a massive match, especially in extra-time, it’s easy to forget the little moments that made victory possible. Obviously the bulk of the attention will be focused on Diani’s stellar display or Henry scoring the winner, but how many will remember Griedge Mbock Bathy’s block?
In the first-half of extra time it was Brazil who were attacking with greater gusto and one particularly good run saw Debinha destroy the French offside trap with a delightful run down the left. The no. 9 had been a thorn in the side of the French all game long but this time she looked in. She curved her run inside the defender, moved around the onrushing Sarah Bouhaddi and tapped the ball home. Goal, right? Wrong. Mbock Bathy arrived out of nowhere like Han Solo in the Death Star trench to block the ball away, preserving the 1-1 scoreline and setting the stage for Henry’s winner.
5. France’s Pyrrhic Victory?
A Pyrrhic Victory is a win that takes too much of a toll on the victor, leaving them in a vulnerable state afterwards. In terms of sports this can often be seen in knockout football when a team puts so much effort into getting by a certain opponent that they have nothing left by the time the next round rolls around.
For France, this match against Brazil had shades of a Phyrric Victory. Sure they didn’t suffer injuries and suspensions as Brazil did, but they were pushed to their limits by the South Americans. The match went to extra-time and although it was settled before penalties, it still meant that the French players all played 120 minutes.
Now, extra time isn’t necessarily a death sentence – but the problem is that France next have to face the winners of USA vs. Spain, and that is highly likely to be the USA. The Americans are a juggernaut who are blowing everyone away right now; they’ve scored 18 goals and haven’t conceded a single strike all tournament long. Imagine having to take them on having played an extra 30 minutes? And even if Spain beat the USA, then they themselves will be so full of confidence that they will pose a monstrous challenge themselves.
Have France damned themselves? Only time will tell.