There aren’t a lot of athletes who get the opportunity that France’s players had on Friday night. In the opening game of the World Cup, in front of an extremely loud, sold-out crowd and a huge TV audience, they got to show off what they’re all about.
France’s stars are well-known to women’s soccer fans and have been for a decade, but for Les Bleus’ match against South Korea, millions of people who had only vaguely heard of them sat down to actually watch those players for the first time. It was the biggest stage they’ve ever had in their own country. And holy shit, did they deliver.
The 4-0 score is impressive enough on its own, but more important than those four goals is who scored them, and how. They were scored by France’s three biggest stars, and scored in signature fashion.
Eugenie Le Sommer always has perfect timing
Le Sommer is terrifying enough when she has the ball at her feet, running at defenders, but she might be even better off the ball. I cannot imagine being a fullback and trying to track her runs all over the place. Plus, she’s so fast that if you make even a minor wrong decision, there’s no recovering. This is a perfect attacking run.
This was Le Sommer’s 75th career goal for France, putting her just six behind Marinette Pichon’s all-time record for the country. It looks like she’ll be shattering that mark quite easily.
Wendie Renard is SO TALL
France showed off some slick set piece routines on Friday, but the best ones were honestly the ones where they just kicked the ball up at Renard’s head. She had a great headed assist on a goal that was marginally disallowed for offside, but she still got two of her own. Both, of course, from headers.
Renard is a central defender, but she’s consistently been one of France’s best goal-scoring threats over the last decade, for obvious reasons. South Korea had no one capable of marking a 6’2” player with great jumping ability and perfect heading technique.
Amandine Henry has a crack just for fun
I think my favorite thing about Henry’s goal is that it looked like she could have pulled off this move whenever she felt like it over the course of the game. Instead, as she usually does, she opted to run wide with the ball or make early passes. She wanted to create space for her teammates and enable them to shine.
But in the 85th minute, with the game already wrapped up, Henry saw a chance to surge into a central space about 25 yards out from goal. In a different situation, she might have opted to go for an assist to Valérie Gauvin, but the result was settled, so she took her moment to show off.
We don’t know how France will do at this World Cup. South Korea certainly didn’t present much opposition. And in each of the last two World Cups, France have turned in some good group stage performances before capitulating in the knockout rounds. But no matter what happens, these players will have this moment, forever. They’ve been the superstars pushing the women’s game forward in France for the last decade, and in the World Cup opener, they produced one of their best performances in front of the big audience they deserved.