You have a friend, or maybe a Twitter follower (or follow) that didn’t believe in France. It’s cool. We’re all entitled to our opinions, and after the third of the 2015 Women’s World Cup’s tri-favorites was upset by Colombia in group stage, some of those opinions became quite loud. It was the biggest upset in tournament history. Some finger-pointing was natural.
At this point, however, we know a 21-3 edge in shots shouldn’t be dismissed so easily. When a team puts six shots on target compared to an opponent’s two, there’s usually a reason. And that reason usually involves the chance that the team creating those huge disparities may be a good bet to finish those chances going forward.
After Sunday’s thrashing of South Korea, France has had two of those tomorrows – two dominant, at times scary, tomorrows, ones that have seen Les Bleues outscore their opponents 8-0. And although those opponents were Mexico (5-0) and Korea (3-0) — neither serious contenders at this summer’s World Cup — those lopsided result should make even casual fans stop and take notice.
For the more hardcore types, that notice was demanded four minutes into France’s Round of 16 match yesterday in Montreal. With the type of attack you’d see in a tactics textbook, Les Bleues broke Korea’s defense, using a level of speed and precision that would vex even the most perfectly organized defenses:
“An Arsenal goal,” fans of Arsène Wenger’s classic Gunners teams might note, but it was really another part of France’s ongoing Spain 2010 parallel. At the South Africa World Cup, the Spaniards went in a tentative favorite, with many enthralled by the fluid, Barcelona-derived style that helped claim 2008’s European title. But naysayers could point to the country’s lack of World Cup success as reason for doubt. When Vicente del Bosque’s team lost in the group stage to Switzerland, some began to scoff.
France carries the same doubts. Just like that Spain team that eventually claimed the 2010 men’s title, Les Bleues often seem like style over production. For all its enthralling fluidity and game-of-tomorrow skill, finishing remains a doubt. With moves like this, however, those doubts may need to be reassessed:
That’s Élodie Thomis, formerly a kind of Theo Walcott-esque speed merchant – an attacker that provided little nuance. But like so many others in the France squad, her evolution has helped elevate the team from dark horse to true contender. In Sunday’s eighth minute, her beautiful give-and-go with Eugénie Le Sommer, aided by a timely run from right back Jessica Houara, added to Marie-Laure Delie’s opener.
It was Le Sommer, however, that would be the day’s biggest star. Though the Lyon attacker won France’s latest Player of the Year honor, she’s often relegated to the shadow of her more famous teammate, Louisa Nécib. But while Nécib has been ineffective to the point of becoming a decoy, Le Sommer has used plays like this to show why she deserves to be seen one of the best attackers in the world:
It was the last goal of a dominant victory, one that was less overwhelming assault (as we saw Saturday from Germany) than assassin’s execution. Three precise strikes, two any defense would need to elevate its game to stop, allowed France to kick the ball around for the rest of the afternoon. It was Spain 2010, except more deadly, and in blue. It was, for those who latched onto the Colombia result, a grand rebuke.
Germany is the favorite, for now. Its blowout win on Saturday came against Sweden, the fifth-ranked team in the world. But going into the teams’ (premature) quarterfinal on Friday in Montreal, France closed the gap. Whereas 24 hours before it seemed the Germans were in a world of their own, France has also distanced itself from the field. If Bergeroo’s team hands Germany its second straight quarterfinal exit, it won’t be a huge shock.