Euro 2017 – France 1 – 0 Iceland – Les Bleues Relieved

France v Iceland Euro 2017 crop

The 2017 Euros have kicked off in the Netherlands, and France’s campaign started with an often frustrating encounter with Iceland that ended in a narrow victory as Eugenie Le Sommer converted a late penalty.

France, as one would expect, had most of the ball and most of the chances, but were blocked, tackled, and frequently bundled over by opponents whose clear game-plan was to defend resolutely, and foul where necessary. This realpolitik approach very nearly worked; the French central attackers often receive the ball with their back to goal, and to put it simply, Iceland just didn’t let them turn around.

With the referee not having the world’s best evening, Wendie Renard – again, not so much a defender as an attacker who starts from further away – was brought to the floor in both penalty areas, and the most promising shots were freekicks or other long-range efforts particularly from Camille Abily and Elise Bussaglia, but these were mostly directly at goalkeeper Gudbjorg Gunnarsdottir, who stood strong. With the majority Icelandic crowd well behind their team with le clapping, their opponents weren’t just defending, as Sif Atladottir put in some Delap-esque long throws and number 10 Dagny Brynjardsdottir looking capable when they went forward.

Clarisse Le Bihan – who had a good chance early on with a curling ball that went just wide – went off injured late in the first half, to be replaced by Kadidiatou Diani on the left wing, supported by UNFP Young Player of the Year Sakina Karchaoui at left-back, while Jessica Houara-D’Hommeaux and Elodie Thomis took the right. But whether France went up the wings or through the middle, they were being effectively, if a little over-exuberantly, shut down. Le Sommer was frequently dropping deep to try to pick up the ball without being completely surrounded, but Iceland were wise to that too, following her wherever she went.

Bussaglia was replaced by Gaetane Thiney after the hour mark as Olivier Echouafni sought to add more attacking thrust to the midfield, leaving Amandine Henry as the only holder. Shortly afterwards, a corner from Abily was sent into the mixer…

As you can hear from Marinette Pichon’s anguished yell as Renard’s header crashes off the crossbar, that was possibly France’s best chance, as time was ticking away. Echouafni’s last change was a like-for-like change with Thomis replaced by Marie-Laure Delie.

In the 85th minute, Iceland’s robust approach finally did for them, as substitute Elin Jensen dragged down Amandine Henry as Abily’s long cross came in, and the referee pointed to the spot. Le Sommer scored her 61st goal for France to make it 1-0 with only 5 minutes remaining.

Sighs of relief from the French camp, therefore, but maybe a tough battle was the best way to set up for the rest of the campaign, as France look to make it past the quarter-final stage which was their lot in the last two editions – as well as in the the most recent editions of the other big Womens’ tournaments, the 2015 World Cup in Canada, and 2016 Olympics in Brazil.

That last frustration saw a change in manager as Echouafni replaced Philippe Bergeroo, and there are many hopeful signs – qualifying for this tournament was done before he took over, but France’s victory in the She Believes Cup saw them beat England and the USA, and draw 0-0 with Germany, showing an ability to manage games against higher-quality opposition that had often been lacking under the Bergeroo, and before that Bruno Bini, eras.

Looking at the stats for the Iceland game, there were shades of those earlier tactical problems – the domination of possession, pass completion, and attempts, and the feeling of being pushed back out of the danger zone by a strong defence. However, under Echouafni, France seem better balanced, and more importantly, didn’t panic as the clock ticked down. As WOTM Renard said in the post-match press conference, “We had a lot of possession, could not score from open play but we won and that is the most important thing. We didn’t play our preferred style of game but it’s true that after half-time we calmed down. We tried to correct our mistakes, to have better movement and communication and to better channel our aggression.”

FRA v ISL Euro 2017

In the other Group C game, Austria beat Switzerland 1-0 with an early goal from Nina Burger. Despite having Lara Dickenmann and Chelsea’s Ramona Bachmann making hay on the left, dominating posession and with a significantly better pass completion rate, Switzerland were not able to come back, not helped by Rahel Kiwic being sent off for a blatant ‘last defender’ foul on Berger on the hour mark. The lowest-ranked team in the group, Austria belied that with a more efficient attack, midfielder Sara Puntigam winning WOTM and goalkeeper Manuela Zinsberger putting in a fine performance.

This sets up an interesting next set of games as Switzerland will be desperate for a win against Iceland – whose manager doesn’t seem a man to give up easily: “Tomorrow the coffee will be hot and the grass will be green, and we’ll enjoy our training. We will look forward to Saturday.” Meanwhile France will play Austria needing to build on this opening performance – now knowing that they can win even without their preferred style of game.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *