the Blue, already conquering the West

Kadidiatou Diani exults: she just opened the scoring against the United States.
Kadidiatou Diani exults: she just opened the scoring against the United States. David Vincent / AP

How do you recognize the approach of a big tournament? Several clues have allowed the players of the France team to realize that the countdown before the opening of the World Cup 2019 (organized from June 7 to July 7) was launched. This week, upon their arrival at their Clairefontaine (Yvelines) headquarters, they have already been greeted by an unusual number of television cameras. "There are more journalists. We feel that it comes little by little. It's a pivotal year for women's football "says Wendie Renard, emblematic defender of Les Bleues.

Saturday, January 19, at the Océane Stadium in Le Havre, as a first preparation match, they had the honor to face, and crush (3-1), the world champions, the Americans. An opponent not insignificant, which is more in the sub-prefecture of Seine-Maritime, whose local club is chaired by a businessman made in USA named after Vincent Volpe.

"The USA team has a great history [3 titres mondiaux et 4 Jeux olympiques]but we do not blush in front of her. We write ours. Tomorrow, we will go into World Cup mode »had warned the day before, Captain Amandine Henry.

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More combative, more in legs and higher technically, her teammates heard the message: from 9e minute, the déboulé of Delphine Cascarino, followed by a wonder of center in withdrawal allowed Kadidiatou Diani to open the score. A beautiful collaboration between a player from Lyon and a player from PSG, the two strongholds of French women's football.

Cascarino - no relation to Tony, the former Irish scorer of Olympique de Marseille - inflicted a nightmare on US left side, Emily Fox. On the side of the United States team, few legs - it must be said that their championship resumed in April - only the attacker Christen Press managed to distinguish in the first period. The French opportunities multiplied, like Diani twice (40e and 41e) or Eugenie Le Sommer, alone, who missed the frame of a breath at the beginning of the second period (50e).

Goals scored by PSG players

Finally, it is still Kadidiatou Diani, lined up at the center forward position, while she usually plays the game, who would double the stakes. His shooting center ended in the opposite corner of goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher (57e, 2-0). The Blues stifled in the bud the semblance of American revolt and killed all suspense thanks to the substitute Marie-Antoinette Katoto (78).e, 3-0), another Parisian player (top scorer in D1 with 17 goals). The reduction in Mallory Pugh's score was only anecdotal (91e, 3-1).

A little less than six months before the opening match of the next World Cup against South Korea, this prestigious match against the best nation of women's football, was sold out, it's to say 22,870 spectators according to a statement from the French Football Federation. The visual impression was rather in this sense even if a few dozen seats remained empty. A mixed public, women and children well represented, braved a biting cold and ensured a beautiful atmosphere. A success when we know that the professional team of the HAC evolves in front of 6 700 fans on average in Ligue 2.

Are media coverage and affluence evidence of a craze? "It's always a shame to have waited for 2019 to see so many journalists [cent accrédités]. Next time, I hope we'll have 200, maliciously noted the coach Corinne Deacon before the match, 22 000 spectators is good but we must all be supporters. This is the 12e wife. I'm not worried, the craze will be there for the World Cup. The organizing committee chose human-sized stadiums. "


Two hours before kickoff, the crowd, still small, took advantage of the entertainment set up for the occasion. A young girl, dressed in her club's tracksuit, managed to hit the center of the target at a precision workshop, where an adult had just sent the ball in the air. "We left for the French team in a short time. She is champion of Vendée ", triumphed the mother while her talented offspring, embarrassed, was getting very small.

Strange blue saucer, placed along the railway line, just opposite the old but mythical stadium Deschaseaux, the Havre, inaugurated in 2012, will host seven posters of the World. What justify the presence in town of a guest of mark, the mascot of the competition, a bird named Ettie. In the middle of a promotional tour, the latter, the daughter of Footix - the famous mascot of the 1998 World Cup - got into BMX on a municipal beach.

Elsewhere in town, the presence of two of the best teams in the world (number 1 and number 3 in the FIFA rankings) was quiet. Some advertising posters announcing the meeting and buses decorated with two small flags, one French and the other American. At the Docks Vauban, rehabilitated industrial buildings, a traveling exhibition on the history of the Blue was inaugurated before the game in the presence of two former internationals: Brigitte Henriques, FFF Deputy Vice President and Vice-President of the Organizing Committee of the Mondial, and Laura Georges, general secretary of the FFF.

The revenge in the quarters of the World Cup?

On the ground, the opposition was up to the expectations. "These are two very good teams, competitive. It is very important for us to play France before the World Cup. The public will be delighted to see so many world-class players », predicted Jill Ellis, the Team USA coach.

The Blues were also not sparing with compliments to their opponents from across the Atlantic. "They have a huge tank. When a new player arrives, we do not see the difference ... "explained Wendie Renard, admiringly. According to teammate Gaëtane Thiney, the United States is "A steamroller", "The iron mind" and "The positive attitude".

One of the American stars, Carli Lloyd, the veteran 36-year-old forward to 105 goals, who entered Saturday twenty minutes from the end, savored the trip the day before the meeting: "Play here, facing the host country, see this stadium where we will play [Suède - Etats-Unis, le 20 juin]it's a great way to start the year. It gives a taste of what will be the World. " She certainly liked the result less but will have the opportunity to take revenge.

The American players are disappointed by the defeat of their team.
The American players are disappointed by the defeat of their team. CHARLY TRIBALLEAU / AFP

Indeed, the two nations, if they end logically first of their respective group, should meet in the quarterfinals, June 28, at the Parc des Princes. A perspective that remains worrying for the French, whose history is still largely unfavorable against the United States despite the good series in progress (1 draw and 2 wins).

In 25 games, the Americans have won 17 times for only 5 triumphs. In official competition, the victory ratio is even 100%: three successes acquired during the semi-finals of the 2011 World Cup (3-1), the 2012 Olympics (4-2) and the first round of the 2016 Olympics ( 1-0).

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These statistics do not prevent Corinne Deacon from finding sleep. The former defender with more than 120 selections will do everything to avoid some pitfalls: "It's been a year and a half without an official match (ex officio qualification). It's a bit long. Do not make the mistake of playing the competition before. Athletes know it well. You have to be patient… "

No doubt the demanding coach will not let her protégés fall asleep on their laurels. She did not wait very long to start doing it. "I'm happy too because there was the way. The girls work really well. We put rigor, demand but they realize tonight again that it pays, she said before throwing, now we will remain humble, we made a good preparation match against the Americans, but we have not won anything yet. " The Blue are prevented.

Anthony Hernandez (special correspondent in Le Havre)

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