It’s been a difficult year for the French women’s national team. It seemed like things might have been looking up when they won the SheBelieves Cup last year after a disappointing 2016 Olympics that saw them exit in the quarterfinals. But it turned out that the SheBelieves Cup would be the peak of their year, after a disappointing result in the 2017 Euro resulted in the dismissal of their head coach Olivier Echouafni. Combine that with the international retirement of Camille Abily and Elodie Thomis, and 2017 was a pretty bleak year for the French.
For France, the question always seems to be, are they capable of stepping up to the plate? After all, they have one of the most technically talented rosters in the world. Lead by the likes of Wendie Renard and Amandine Henry, they should have no problem keeping up with the U.S or Germany or anyone else who dominates the international stage. But of course, this always seems to be a problem for France. Even when their roster is fully healthy, they lack the fighting spirit to keep going. They miss easy goals. They seem to always find new ways to lose.
But there is a new head coach in town. And she isn’t messing around.
The French roster for the SheBelieves Cup reflects a team looking to experiment. The roster does not feature many of the best-known names from France—including Wendie Renard, who is out with injury—and instead, focuses on younger, diverse talent. Out of the 23-player roster, only eight of them play for one of France’s top two clubs, PSG or Lyon. That’s a far cry from their 2015 World Cup roster, which featured only one player that didn’t represent one of those two squads.
— Equipe de France (@equipedefrance) February 20, 2018
Gaëtane Thiney was a surprise return to the national team. Many thought her career with France was done, and as the call-ups came less and less, many figured that she would settle back into her club Paris FC (formerly FCF Juvisy), where she has played for ten years and serves as captain. But it seems that head coach Corinne Diacre is looking for her and Amandine Henry, a veteran international and former Portland Thorns midfielder, to step up as leaders for the team.
It was refreshing to see Amel Majri back on the roster, after an injury left her out of the 2017 Women’s Euros. But many were surprised to see Majri listed as a defender, rather than a midfielder. Majri prefers to play in the midfield and has quite the attacking talent when she pushes the ball up the field. Playing her as a wingback would be particularly interesting, but we’ll have to wait and see what Corinne Diacre has in mind.
Valérie Gauvin and Ouleymata Sarr are two of the newcomers whose names stand out. They are both young (21 and 22, respectively) and have come up through the French youth system. Gauvin has played for Montpellier since 2014 and Sarr plays for Lille OSC. While accurate statistics on their goal count are difficult to find, it is clear that both players have had success at finding the back of the net. They both played in the national team friendly against Ghana in October 2017—where Sarr was making her senior debut—and both players scored goals. France needs a player who can finish, and it will be exciting to see what these two strikers can do on the pitch.
It’s clear that most of France’s veteran talent is in the midfield, and that’s where they will likely be strongest. But I like the players that Diacre is experimenting with in the back field and I’m hopeful that one of these young strikers could breathe some life into the French attacking game. I’m not sure what to be most excited about.
Diacre is approaching her first tournament with the French national team, and she is not sticking with the status quo. While I expect the likes of Henry and Eugenie Le Sommer to get playing time, I also expect to see Diacre giving new talent a chance. This could be a breakout tournament for any number of the young players that Diacre has called up. As always, I hope that the youngsters learn from the veterans on the field—but I also think they could be the new life that this French team desperately needs.
France won this tournament last year. Can they do it again this year?
March 1: vs. England, 4 pm ET/1 pm PT (ESPN3)
March 4: vs. USA, 12 pm ET/9 am PT (ESPN2)
March 7: vs. Germany, 4 pm ET/1 pm PT (ESPN3)