Les Bleues say Au Revoir to the Women’s World Cup
After 120 scintillating minutes of football, in what was an exhilarating quarter-final match, France are coming home after drawing 1-1 with Germany, then losing 5-4 in the penalty shoot-out.
It was an odd match-up to happen in a quarter-final, with the teams ranked 1st and 3rd in the world facing off. This article from Grant Wahl helps to explain why it happened, and why the teams ranked 1st and 2nd (USA) will now meet in the semi-final. Camille Abily voiced France’s frustration at this situation, stressing that it was not responsible for the defeat, but “pourquoi ne fait-on pas comme chez les garçons?” (i.e., this wouldn’t happen to the men – as with playing on ‘turf’, leading to ridiculous temperatures at pitch level).
In their first knock-out match, against South Korea, France put in their most efficient performance of the tournament, winning 3-0. Marie-Laure Delie opened the scoring after just four minutes, Elodie Thomis made it two just four minutes later, and France then coasted comfortably to half-time as their opponents failed to get a foothold in the game. After the restart, there was a similarly swift twist of the knife as Delie got her second, both coming from rapid one-touch passing on the left and a cut-back for the striker looming in the centre. The Koreans managed more shots than France had faced to that point but a superb save from Sarah Bouhaddi in the second half, at full-stretch to tip over the bar, saw off the best of them. France were through, the only concern the fact that Laure Boulleau had needed treatment late on in the game.
Next up was the Germans – and for the first time a change to the French backline, as Amel Majri, on the wing against Mexico, came in for Boulleau at left-back. France started like a train, Louisa Necib with a raking low shot that went inches wide of the post within the first few minutes. As Thomis twisted German left-back Kemme all over the place, and France won a series of freekicks (one seriously impeded by the referee), it was clear that caution wasn’t in les Bleues’ tactical plan. As the half went on, however, those of us who watch France a lot started to get that familiar sinking feeling. They needed to convert.
At half-time it was goalless, despite France having loosed off 14 shots. Angerer had made a couple of saves but the majority, particularly in that early flurry, had been off-target. In brighter news, Necib, who had not been entirely convincing in the early stages, was playing well, as was Bouhaddi, who pulled off another great save from a Maroszan freekick.
Finally, just after the hour mark, French pressure paid off – Necib pounced on a weak defensive header and curled it past Nadine Angerer from just outside the area. Sylvia Neid had already switched Maroszan in for Mittag at half time, and now replaced Popp with Daebritz to keep the offensive pressure up. The substitute went close with her first effort, then Laudehr – a roving, roaming threat – went wide with a freekick.
That sinking feeling? Check.
When it came, it was cruel; a penalty for handball by Majri at the edge of the area. Bouhaddi went the wrong way but Sasic’s spot-kick was right in the corner anyway. With only five minutes to play, France had to keep their heads – and keep defending as Germany pushed forward. Claire Lavogez, who had replaced Thomis, went down theatrically in the area but the referee was having none of it. 1-1 at full-time.
For extra time, Gaetane Thiney came on for Eugenie le Sommer, and after the wonderful movement of the early stages, things were starting to get a bit frazzled, culminating in Thiney trying to play a pass out while lying on the floor in the area with three defenders around her. Necib sent a rocket shot into Krahn, catching her on the elbow, but it was just outside the area – Majri crashed the freekick off the wall.
The last change for France was Kheira Hamrouai on for Delie, Bergeroo being all out of striking options. She was traditionally quickly into the action (taking only 3 minutes to be booked against South Korea) picking up a bloody nose that forced her off the pitch for several minutes at the start of the second half of added time, changing her shirt on the sideline and very nearly having to change her shorts as well.
And then, in added time of extra time, a glorious, glorious chance – Thiney broke the tired German backline to appear in space at the far post as the cross came in, but sidefooted wide. With penalties looming, that was the opportunity.
When the woman in goal is a former World Player of the Year, you have to expect that she’ll save one. Hell, she saved two in the final of the European Championships. You have to expect that you will need all your first five takers. For France, those were Thiney, Abily, Necib, Renard, and Lavogez. Abily later praised Lavogez for having the courage to take one, but while the 21-year-old, playing in her first official tournament for the senior team, clearly doesn’t lack self-belief, Bergeroo’s decision to put her fifth seemed to apply unnecessary pressure.
Germany took first, and while Bouhaddi got close to two, from Peter and Maroszan, the scoreboard ticked up to 5-4 – and the pressure told. Lavogez’s shot was too close to the centre, and Angerer went the right way, blocking with a combination of knee and hand. Germany were through. France were out. Lavogez was in pieces.
The traditional concern with France is two-fold, as previously outlined; a failure to convert against the better teams, and a worrying concession rate, despite often limiting their opponents’ chances. Here, the first was again true – France had 24 shots (only 4 on target), but failed to capitalise. They were kept in it that long because the defence – Bouhaddi in particular – managed the impressive feat of stopping Germany from open play, facing 17 shots, 7 on target. At the end, facing arguably the best goalkeeper in the women’s game in a penalty shoot-out, they were beaten. However, as captain Wendie Renard said after the match, they can hold their heads up. It was a valiant defeat.