Can Les Bleus do the gender double at the World Cup?
Background Image: Zakarie Faibis, CC BY-SA 4.0
Just under a year has passed since France lifted the FIFA World Cup, putting end to an eighteen-year trophyless streak. Now, the nation's women have the opportunity to break their own World Cup curse, on home soil none less.
France’s men are the undisputed champions, but the female side is playing catch-up to gain a similar spotlight. As Les Bleues get ready to host the Women’s bonanza, the pressure is magnified to live up to their high expectations. The flip-side to this remains that only once has the host nation won the FIFA Women’s World Cup in its seven editions.
Indeed, the mighty United States of America were the ones to have been crowned champions at home. That occurred 20 years ago. Since then, no host nation has been able to consolidate home advantage into winning the whole thing. Then again, not many were crawling with talents in very prime. It's different for France.
Thanks to Olympique Lyonnais Feminine’s dominant rise, Les Bleues have garnered players with an elite winning-mentality. Due to Lyon having won the UEFA Women’s Champions League for the past four consecutive years, the French stars’ reputation has grown in strides. While transitioning club success into the international stage isn’t easy, form over last year spells otherwise.
In their last ten friendlies, France's ladies have been on the losing side only once. Knowing the World Cup was approaching, they cleverly set up every friendly in own country to improve team cohesiveness. As a result, they’ve mastered the art of winning on home turf in preparation for the battle ahead. Dominant wins over heavyweights Brazil, the USA and Japan during last year indicate Corinne Diacre’s methods are working wonders.
The former French international missed out on sweet World Cup glory during her playing heydays. She's aiming to redeem that shortcoming by guiding Les Bleues into promise land as their coach. Like the men’s national team, the women’s squad mirrors similarly confident, world-class players.
With a good blend of experience and youth, France boast the perfect balance to thrive on the world stage. Captain Amandine Henry leads by example, dictating the tempo from midfield while protecting her side from threat.
Henry’s driving nature is matched with a never-say-die attitude. She'll be determined to replicate her domestic success on the world stage. To provide assistance, fan-favourite Eugenie Le Sommer is the one to watch. Quite possibly playing her final World Cup, the 30-year-old’s intent on delivering best yet. The Grasse-born striker's scored 74 goals for France, putting her only seven behind all-time top-scorer Marinette Pichon. Using her exquisite goal-scoring skill and lethal presence, she’ll want to break Pichon’s historic record in the World Cup itself to boost Les Bleues' chances.
While Le Sommer’s the experienced star, her partner-in-crime, 24-year-old Kadidiatou Diani is Diacre’s secret weapon. The Paris Saint-Germain forward is the next big thing in French football. Her emphatic finishing ability mixed with undying work-rate was on display when she squatted goals past Japan, China and the USA. Other effective young goalscorers are Valerie Gauvin and Delphine Cascarino.
France’s strength also lies in defence. Four out of their starting five rearguard play together at Lyon. Sarah Bouhaddi’s reliability in goal along with Wendie Renard and Griedge Mbock Bathy’s intimidating presence in the backline help form a solid, protective layer.
Diacre’s ability in rotating her luxurious options to find the right combination draws a comparison to Didier Deschamps. Unlike him, she’s managed both male and female sides in her career. The 44-year-old’s knack of allowing Les Bleues to express freely has helped them to bloom. The fearless gaffer’s mentality is reflected in her united team. It could all come together to produce great results.
The stage is set. The nation is ready. Recent form points France as favourites to win the Women's World Cup. The talent is quite visibly there. With just a little self-belief and mental fortitude, Les Bleues can rally onwards to making history.