Saturday August 12, in front of 50,000 wild supporters at Brisbane Stadium (Australia), the dream of Les Bleues flew away. The French team was eliminated on penalties (0-0, 6-7 tab) by Australia, host country of the competition, on the verge of the last four of the Football World Cup. An immense disillusionment for Hervé Renard’s players who had until then had an almost perfect start to the tournament, marked in particular by a victory (2-1) against Brazil in the group stage.
Forty-one days after this elimination, the Blues returned to the pitch and their audience. Friday September 22, at 9:10 p.m., at the Hainaut stadium, in Valenciennes (North), they face Portugal for their first match in the group stages of the inaugural edition of the Women’s Nations League. The competition, which brings together the sixteen best European selections, looks like a launching pad for Hervé Renard, who will try to lead his troops towards a medal at the Paris Olympic Games, in the summer of 2024. The coach had announced, the same day of the end of the World Cup adventure, that he wanted to take his “revenge”.
Before dreaming of Olympic gold, the French team will therefore have to play, at least, six high-stakes matches. Placed in group 2, they will face – twice – Austria, Norway and therefore Portugal. If the Bleues have never lost against the Lusitanian selection in six confrontations (four victories and two draws), Hervé Renard warns against any excess of confidence. Because their opponents on Friday have been in constant progress for years. “It’s a team that had a very good World Cup [pour leur première participation au tournoi, le Portugal a joué les trouble-fêtes dans le groupe F, tenant en échec les tenantes du titre américaines]. You have to be very suspicious”, warned the coach in a published interview on the website of the French Football Federation.
Griedge Mbock and Amandine Henry return
The format of this Nations League is the same as for the men: the first team in the group will qualify for the semi-finals, and the last team will be demoted to League B. It also allows the two teams which will reach the final to obtain a quota for the Games. If France is automatically qualified for the Olympic high m as host country, there is no question of minimizing the deadline: “It’s a very interesting competition for women’s football, which must be taken as seriously as possible. There is a real challenge: qualifying for the semi-finals and playing in a final in Europe”, added Hervé Renard. Especially since the tournament will also be decisive in the development of the groups for the Euro 2025 qualifying campaign (in Switzerland), which will begin next spring.
Against Portugal, the French team will rely on its experienced players (Eugénie Le Sommer, Wendie Renard) and its young players (Vicki Becho, Selma Bacha), an ociation which had given full satisfaction in Australia. The Blues will also count on the return of Griedge Mbock and Amandine Henry, two regulars at the Clairefontaine national football center (Yvelines), absent from the World Cup due to injuries. Paris Saint-Germain star striker Marie-Antoinette Katoto should, for her part, return during the French team’s next training camp.
Beyond purely sporting issues, this League of Nations should allow women’s football to continue its development in France and prolong the enthusiasm generated by the last World Cup. “We see that the players were able to gain something from the French public. It’s up to us to keep those who have followed us until now and to win a little more so that French women’s football is even better recognized.”, repeated Hervé Renard at a press conference, he who has been increasing calls to come to the stadium since his arrival on the selection bench. Of the 20,000 places available on Friday evening in Valenciennes, some 17,000 have already found takers.
“We will have to be better than during the World Cup”
Wendie Renard, the captain of the Bleues, was a little more critical of the situation: “ We are light years away from what we see in England or Spain. It’s hard because we can’t say we don’t have the potential. In terms of media and marketing, there are things to improve for everyone”lamented the defender to Agence France-Presse.
In its quest for recognition, French women’s football will undoubtedly benefit from the Olympic Games at the end of the season. A true reference tournament in the discipline, contested by the best players with no age limit, it is the number one objective of the Tricolores. “To dream and get this Olympic medal, you will have to be better than during the World Cup. These Games are the future very very big milestone for French women’s football. already mentioned, impatiently, Hervé Renard. Winning a first title, in the Nations League, wouldn’t be bad either.