In less than a week, France will kickoff the 2019 Women’s World Cup as the host nation, playing their opening match against South Korea in Paris. The French National Team, or Les Bleues as they’re known, are one of the favorites to win the tournament. But what do we know about the French team and how much of a chance do they really have to walk away with the title?
France is currently No. 4 in the FIFA World Rankings. They have been one of the best squads in the world for a while, despite having never won a major title (unless you count the SheBelieves Cup). Their best finish at the World Cup was fourth place in 2011. But they will be motivated to prove themselves on home soil, especially after suffering a devastating defeat to Germany in the Quarterfinals of the 2015 tournament.
Since that last tournament, France has brought on a new head coach and lost some of their biggest stars to retirement. Corinne Diacre became France’s head coach in 2017. She led the national team as a defender and team captain during her playing career, making 121 appearances for France between 1993 and 2005. She also made history as the first woman to coach a men’s competitive match in France when she took charge of second-tier side Clermont in 2014.
Some of the big names that won’t be gracing the pitch for France this year include Louisa Necib, Camile Abilly, Elodie Thomis, Laure Boulleau, and Laura Georges. They have a combined total of close to 700 appearances for France, with Georges sitting at No. 2 all time (behind Sandrine Soubeyrand with 198 caps). Those are some big losses for France, but where there are players retiring, there are youngsters ready to fill their shoes.
The team’s biggest names all play for Olympique Lyon, who won their fourth consecutive Champions League title last month. At 6’2, Wendie Renard is a dominant force in the central defense. She has captained this team before but has recently passed those honors off to Amandine Henry. This season, she led a Lyon defense that allowed just 11 goals across all matches in the 2018-2019 campaign. She will be joined in the defense by her Lyon teammate Amel Majri, who is naturally a midfielder but has been playing at left back in recent years. Majri is a difference maker for the French squad and was sorely missed in their 2017 Euro’s tournament. If she can stay healthy, she will be a huge asset to this French side.
Amandine Henry, the current captain for France, is the best midfielder on the French team and one of the best midfielders in the world. She spent two years playing for the Portland Thorns in the NWSL before joining Lyon. While she plays as a defensive midfielder, she always plays a critical role in the attack as well. Gaetane Thiney made the World Cup roster, despite those who thought the 2015 tournament would be her last. She will be looking to redeem herself after missing an easy goal that would have taken France through to the semi-finals in 2015.
Eugenie Le Sommer has long been the leader of the attack for France. She has 74 goals in 159 caps with France and 163 goals in 175 appearances with Lyon. Despite her creativity, Le Sommer and the French attack have historically had problems finishing. Two players to keep an eye on for France are two of the younger strikers Head Coach Corinne Diacre has included in the roster: Delphine Cascarino and Valerie Gauvin. Gauvin has five goals in France’s last seven friendlies, while Cascarino scored a brace against Denmark.
One notable absence from the French roster is Marie-Antoinette Katoto, who has scored 53 goals in 57 appearances for PSG since she joined the squad in 2015. Katoto had an inconsistent year, putting on a poor performance for PSG in Champions League competition, but Diacre’s decision apparently stemmed from her belief that the 20-year-old striker lacks focus and wasn’t ready for the world’s biggest stage.
The key for France will be finishing their chances. Despite having some of the best attacking players in the world, France’s failure in big moments has always come from not finishing. The opportunity for France to win the title this year, a year after the men won their title, on home soil is indescribable. But France also tends to underperform, to cave to the pressure in big moments. Will they be able to overcome that tendency and become the first country to ever hold the men’s and women’s titles simultaneously? Only time will tell.