This series will look at some of the biggest games in the women’s soccer world. Rather than simply recapping the score line, these articles will look at the beating pulse of each match. For the first article, I’ll take you back to the 2015 Women’s World Cup and the meeting of Europe’s powerhouses.
It easily could have been the final. But thanks to the luck of the draw, Germany and France met in the quarterfinals of the 2015 Women’s World Cup. Germany looked like title contenders—not surprising for a team that dominated Europe for 20 years. France was also looking surprisingly strong, desperate to take home the first major trophy for their country.
But French fans were understandably nervous to face the German powerhouse. Germany had won every European Championship since 1995. Meanwhile, France had failed to even come close to winning an international tournament despite having some of the best players in the world on their roster.
Whatever confidence the fans lacked, the French team had no doubts that they could win this game. Both teams were known for their physicality and you could tell from the first kick how much each of them wanted to walk away with a win. Chances were taken on both sides, but at the end of the first half, things were scoreless.
In the second half, things got even more physical as both sides started to worry about how long this game would go on without a goal. Their questions were answered in the 64th minute, when French superstar Louisa Necib launched a ball from outside the 18-yard-box past German goalkeeper Nadine Angerer to give France a 1-0 lead.
But it didn’t take long for France to become their own worst enemy. In the 84th minute, as the Germans moved their attack down field, a ball inside the 18-yard box bounced off the arm of a French player. A penalty was given to Germany.
French fans hearts stopped. You couldn’t often rely on Sarah Bouhaddi to hand you a miracle, but they all had hope.
Bouhaddi jumped the wrong way. The ball rolled into the back of the net and the game was even.
Both teams were looking for the winner, but as the second half went on, they looked more and more tired. In the end, neither side could break through and the match went to extra time.
The French may have been tired, but they were determined. They started extra time in control, creating great chances that they couldn’t finish. Nothing was more frustrating for French fans than in the 117th minute, when the ball was crossed to Gaetane Thiney. She was one-on-one with the keeper, but an awkward bounce off her leg caused the ball to go out of bounds.
You could feel the energy of that match through the TV screen. Everyone was tired. But they continued to play their hearts out, as physical as they had been in the opening minutes. Claire Lavogez dove for a header and flipped over a German player’s back, landing in a painful position but she got up. In extra time, Kheira Hamraoui took an elbow to the face and earned herself a gruesome bloody nose. She had to step onto the sidelines, but she just told them to stop the bleeding and get her a new kit so she could get back onto the pitch.
At the end of 120 minutes, it was still 1-1. The match went to penalty kicks—the worst ending to such a beautiful match of soccer.
In 2015, both France and Germany had some of the best strikers in the world. Their skill would be on display in this penalty set. Penalties were taken by the likes of Celia Sasic and Melanie Behringer for Germany, Louisa Necib and Camille Abily for France. In the end, it was 5-4, with only Claire Lavogez left to kick for France.
A bit of context about Claire Lavogez—she’s young. When she played this match, she had just turned 21. She hadn’t received much time with the senior national team prior to the tournament, but had emerged as one of the most talented young midfielders on France’s roster. She had impressed a lot of people, clearly enough to earn her the final penalty kick in this match.
At first, she just walked off. The German team stormed the pitch, tackling Nadine Angerer with pure joy. No one doubted the power of the United States, but many thought the toughest match of the tournament may have been behind them. It wasn’t an easy road ahead, but there is nothing more hopeful than a chance.
Occasionally, they would show Lavogez amongst the celebrations. Her teammates comforting her or just laying out on the pitch, crying. Jessica Houara was the first person to hug Lavogez. Lavogez bit down on her jersey, clenching her teeth and trying not to break down. They flashed to her later, cradling her knees and crying while her teammates tried to console her. There were a lot of emotional moments in the Women’s World Cup, but this was one of the toughest to watch.
It was also the last World Cup match for many of the players that might be referred to as France’s Forgotten Generation. World-class players like Camille Abily, Louisa Necib, and Elodie Thomis would never play in a World Cup match again. And they would finish their international careers without a trophy or a medal to take home to their country.
It wasn’t enough, but this much was clear: they had given their all.