Mosson plays host to the Montpellier women’s team for the first time in over two years. God bless the new TV deal. A rainy weekend turns sunny for the match, and free admission encourages a wide range of support – grizzled old men smoke, young guys tweet, children play, babies cry. Two little girls have matching ‘Lattaf 18’ shirts, others have Barca home and away, a Giroud Arsenal top – the one with the purple and black stripes and the pink trim – and there’s somebody in a highlighter green Chelsea shirt. He’s an adult, so he has no excuse…
PSG are in town for the first ‘grand choc’ of Division 1, and there seem to be some parallels between their men’s and women’s teams. Bear with me.
1) Be a big mover in the transfer window
While there has been a lot of focus on PSG’s massive outlay on the men’s team, the QIA chequebook has also been opened to reboot a women’s team which lost a couple of key players in the summer, Élise Bussaglia going to OL, Bérengère Sapowicz retiring. They brought in former OL coach Farid Benstiti, after a year managing the Russian national team, and a host of new players. Within France, Shirley Cruz Trana was tempted away from OL for ‘a new challenge’ (OL have won back-to-back Champions Leagues and half-a-dozen domestic titles in a row), Kheira Hamraoui from St Etienne, and Allison Blais from newly promoted Guingamp, but the most impressive bits of business were international. 18-year-old striker Lindsay Horan was somehow convinced to forego the usual route for US internationals and give up the college experience for a rumoured six figure monthly salary (busting the usual approach – the highest paid previously, Lotta Schelin, was on 12,000 a month at, you guessed it, OL – you will have noticed how often they have been mentioned so far), then Annike Krahn and Linda Bresonik from Duisburg, the latter for another reportedly record-breaking amount, and a Swede, Kosovare Asllani; internationals all.
The call had gone out – free football! Venez nombreuse! – but I was still slightly doubtful that the young gun with the Belhanda shirt who got on the tram with us would actually be going to the match. But no, there he was – and even on the same tram back. The Gévaudan stand felt full where we were (4,343 capacity) but the TV shows some gaps at the far end; still, there were probably 3,500 there, many standing at the back to avoid the deep puddles in the footwells of the remaining seats. One chap in a glitter scarf, neon baseball cap and possibly false beard, like the worst possible disguise for avoiding the authorities, enlivened the second half with his heartfelt pleas to the team.
2) Start the season slowly
PSG’s first game this season was a 1-1 draw against newly-promoted Guingamp. For those new to women’s football, here’s how it works – the smaller nature of the game means a concentration of good players in established teams, thus, there is usually a top four fighting for something concrete (the championship, or a CL place – for the top two, in Division 1) and then there’s cannon fodder. A typical result between an A-team and someone from pot B is a large-number-to-nil win – last year’s top two, Lyon and Juvisy, opened their campaigns with an 8-0 and a 6-0 respectively. Drawing 1-1 with a newly promoted team is equivalent to losing at home to Villa – badly; you’re expected to win all of the games with the lower teams, and use them to maximise goal difference, while the title is played out between the top teams. This makes the ‘grand chocs’ (matches between the elite) even more important than in the men’s game, as there is much less chance of an upset elsewhere.
The Guingamp game featured PSG having the majority of possession and lots of shots, just not converting apart from a Hamrouai shot just before the break – the home team then gamely scrambled one in at 80 minutes to equalise. The last ten minutes were a full-on onslaught as PSG threw everything they had at the goal, but the Guingamp keeper deserves a medal, or at the very least a stiff drink, for her performance to keep them at bay. Yes, PSG went on to tank St Etienne 5-0 in their second game, but that first stutter could end up being crucial – in the pre-match build-up, the pundits were already saying, with perfectly straight faces, that with only two games played, PSG could not afford to drop any more points if they wanted to challenge for the title.
The PSG starting eleven featured five of their new signings (see graphic) but it was one of those who started on the bench who was most interesting – Bresonik, with 78 caps for Germany, a recognisable figure even before her entrance, seemingly wearing a different kit to her colleagues. She played slower, it seemed, starting in deep midfield, then moving up, up, more and more threatening as she played herself into the game, until a fascinating duel emerged with Lattaf on the wing. Simply looking more comfortable on the ball than the other players on the pitch, she took on the responsibility of the injury time freekick that could have sealed it for PSG – it bounced once, twice off the wall, but Montpellier were lucky she is not yet fully in the game. Once these new signings click, as with the men’s team, they could run riot; Horan and Hamrouai already look imposing and impressive in attack, Cruz has always been tricky, and Krahn has even more caps for Germany than her colleague (82).
The lino on our side was not having a great game – there was the usual barracking when a clear offside was missed, followed by the traditional ironic applause when the next (obvious) call was correct. In injury time there was another one, Lino fifteen yards off being even and missing two PSG players way ahead of the line, and much sarcastic grumbling from the nearby grizzled old blokes – “well, that’s what happens if you let a bloke run the line…”
3) Have an air of inevitability about you, score late goals.
So, Montpellier were leading after a superb 72nd minute strike from Marie-Laure Delie – a sort of screamer-chip from the right touchline, looping over the keeper and into the net (France-based readers can access the whole match here – jump to 1h 37 mins for the goal – readers elsewhere should recall Remy Cabella’s goal against Chile for the U21s, and imagine it from a tighter angle and from further away) …and then in the last minute (1h 55 on the video), a penalty was given for not very much, which Delanoy converted.
The match had been pretty even, PSG looking dangerous up both wings, Boulleau very sprightly on the left, but two good first half chances coming from the right wing, across the face of goal – the Montpellier defence was tested, but showed great composure; while PSG’s backline was content to hoick the ball out of danger, MHSC were planning ahead, not afraid to play it out of defence. Montpellier came close twice in the first half from deadballs delivered with intent by Ludivine Diguelman, and then made more from open play in the second half, particularly from Hoda Lattaf who moved to the left after the Diguelman went off, sitting in front of the equally dangerous substitute left-back Cynthia Viana.
Unfortunately MHSC’s habit of backpassing to Durand to start a new move came a bit of a cropper in injury time, as a woefully underhit effort allowed Horan to break – Viana took one for the team with a blatant professional foul to stop a one-on-one with the keeper…the high-fives as she left the pitch suggested that the rest of her team agreed with her cynical, but practical, decision. A draw was probably a fair result, but there is something particularly gutting about a 90th minute penalty equaliser.
Going to a match at Mosson is usually a late-night affair, darkness falling or already fallen – I’ve never seen a butterfly at a football match before, only bats – the crowds around the buvettes eating and drinking before entering the alcohol-free zone of the stadium. It was odd to wander that same route in bright sunshine, showing nothing more than the remnants of the morning vegetable market – a couple of crushed red onions, some slices of melon. After the match, there was a single van offering hotdogs, and providing patio furniture to sit on, but the crowd wandered past to the tramstop, not interested.
With thanks to Nathan Gray for the match photos. And for coming with me.