Hosts France kick off their 2019 Women’s World Cup campaign against South Korea on Friday evening with expectations reaching fever-pitch.
Following the success of the men’s team at Russia 2018, the French women’s contingent have the chance to secure a first-ever World Cup trophy, and become just the second nation to win of both editions of the competition – after Germany.
But to do so, they will have to overturn a rather sketchy history on this stage. This summer’s tournament will be just the fourth in which France have featured. This time, they qualified automatically as hosts, but they have won just six of their 14 World Cup games to date, never going beyond the semi-finals.
Since France crashed out in a penalty shoot-out defeat against Germany in 2015, though, plenty of water has passed under the bridge of women’s football. The four years since have seen Lyon Feminin win four consecutive Champions League titles, becoming the first side in either the men’s or women’s game to do so in the competitions’ current guise.
“They look quite confident and recent results against the States shows the potential is there. Of course, you have to be lucky as well to win a tournament like that, but we have a good chance.”
Furthermore, they have won three domestic doubles and haven’t failed to win the Division 1 Féminine since the 2005/06 season. And luckily for Les Bleues, their squad contains no fewer than seven of Lyon’s all-conquering squad: Sarah Bouhaddi, Amel Majri, Griedge Mbock Bathy, Wendie Renard, Amandine Henry, Delphine Cascarino and goal-machine, Eugénie Le Sommer.
Henry, France’s captain, believes this added quality gives them a far better chance of success this time around as they try to emulate their male counterparts.
“I am lucky to be part of a great generation with players like Eugenie [Le Sommer], Wendy [Renard], Sarah [Bouhaddi],” Henry told ESPN.
“There is a lot of talent in this squad, with a great, rigorous and experienced coach in Corinne Diacre. We are more mature than four years ago, stronger as well individually and as a team.
“We have a lot of confidence and momentum too. We are all aware of the impact that winning this World Cup would have on women’s football in France. It would be incredible and after watching the men winning it last summer, we want to do the same.”
France’s campaign may kick off in Paris against South Korea at a sold-out Parc des Princes stadium on Friday night but should they advance to the final four, it would finish at Lyon’s Parc Olympique Lyonnais, which hosts the semi-finals and final. A factor which has them down as many people’s favourites this time around.
To win the Women’s World Cup, France must overcome the likes of three-time winners USA, Germany and England, who finished third in 2015.
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But Henry believes their defeat to Germany in Canada four years ago gives Les Bleues the big-game experience on the international stage they sorely lacked last time.
“We have lacked experience in the previous tournaments, especially the last World Cup,” she added.
“It was a discovery for a lot of us. It hurt so much to lose to Germany but we have learned a lot from it. We certainly don’t want to go through it again this time around.
“We will know how to deal with the pressure, the expectations and use the fact that we play at home as a great advantage.”
France have won 13 of their last 16 games dating back to the 2018 SheBelieves Cup – a run which has seen them keep nine clean sheets, score 50 goals and pull off a 1-1 draw and 3-1 win over fellow World Cup frontrunners, USA. Preparations are going well.
Given that Lyon – the site of so many monumental successes in recent years – is the venue for the final of a World Cup on home soil, the stars may finally align for France this summer for what is surely the most talented generation of players they’ve ever had.