Women’s World Cup Preview: France a real threat to a U.S. repeat playing on home soil
By CLEMENTE LISI
New York Daily News|
Jun 06, 2019 | 10:37 AM
PARIS — Playing at home has typically been an asset for teams competing at soccer’s World Cup. On the men’s side, the host nation has lifted the trophy six times. At the Women’s World Cup, it has only happened once — 20 years ago when Brandi Chastain’s now-famous penalty kick defeated China in a shootout at the Rose Bowl.
As France prepares to open the 24-nation Women’s World Cup on Friday against South Korea at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris, the notion that the home side can win it all very much weighs on the minds of the coaching staff and players. The French men’s team, which won its second-ever World Cup in Russia last summer, captured its first title in 1998 on home soil. Led by star striker Zinedine Zidane, the victory unleashed celebrations across France.
France are among the pre-tournament favorites this time around as well — along with defending champions the United States and two-time winners Germany — to lift the trophy. The French players said they hope history can repeat itself.
“I’m from the 1998 generation,” said team captain Amandine Henry. “Zidane is one player I admired a lot, but also all the players from that team. We want to go through the same series of emotions.”
The 29-year-old Henry, a midfielder known for her toughness and long-range shooting, is one of seven Lyon players who recently won the women’s Champions League for a fourth straight year that form the backbone of this French squad.
The opening match should not disappoint given the enthusiasm from the expected sellout crowd of 48,000 flag-waving fans — including French President Emmanuel Macron — that will greet the players. Like many teams playing a World Cup at home, France, ranked fourth on the planet by FIFA, will have to deal with the pressures that come with being a host nation.
But the French are also hoping to use the home turf to break a negative streak that dates back to the last World Cup in Canada four years ago. At that tournament, France crashed out in the quarterfinals against Germany on penalties. It’s a pattern that repeated itself at the next two tournaments: eliminated from the 2016 Rio Olympics in the quarterfinals and the European Championship a year later, again after reaching the final eight. At this tournament, the U.S. and France could very well meet in the quarterfinals should both, as expected, get past the group stage.
“What we did in the past, we will try to leave him behind us,” said goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi, who also plays with Lyon. “We are here to try to build the history of women’s soccer in France. It’s been over a year that we’re working for that. We have progressed together. I can’t tell you whether we will be world champions, but we will do everything we can.”
The team is coached by Corrine Diacre, best known for having shattered the glass ceiling in 2014 after being named manager of Clermont Foot, a second division men’s team. A former national team player, Diacre said her players are ready to get the tournament rolling.
“Everyone is fit,” Diacre said. “Everyone is 100% ready.”
In a sign of how far the women’s game needs to go in terms of respect, Diacre and her players — while training last month at the federation’s national team base in the Parisian suburb of Clairefontaine — were told to temporarily vamoose so the men’s team could practice ahead of a European Championship qualifier. Didier Deschamps, who coaches the men’s team, later downplayed the incident, saying the women’s team “will have Clairefontaine available for the entire World Cup.”
France, the seeded team in Group A, will also play Norway on June 12 in Nice, followed by Nigeria on June 17 in Rennes. South Korea, which placed fifth at last year’s Asian Cup, will be playing in its third World Cup finals.
The Women’s World Cup opener will be preceded by the opening ceremony, which will feature French singer Jain. FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, said 20 of the tournament’s 52 games have already sold out. FIFA President Gianni Infantino said fans can expect to see “an explosion of women’s football” across France this month.
The tournament, which will be played in nine French cities, will culminate with the final on July 7 in Lyon.