France Is Taking Care Of Business
11:05 AM EDT on August 8, 2023
When France started the 2023 Women's World Cup with a 0-0 draw against Jamaica, it looked like a harbinger of what would define the group stage tournament-wide: One of Europe's finest sides succumbing to supposedly lesser competition, the first red flag for what would eventually become disaster. This was France after all! Here is the No. 5 team in the world, probably the second-best team at the last World Cup, only thwarted by running into the United States earlier than anyone wanted. Failing to score on Jamaica didn't augur well, even if the Reggae Girlz turned out to be defensive stalwarts whose only conceded goal came in their round of 16 elimination at the hands of Colombia.
Even after beating Brazil 2-1 and then notching a rowdy 6-3 win over lowly Panama, France still didn't look quite like the dominating side that could sweep the lower half of the bracket en route to the final and perhaps the trophy. There wasn't any singular cause for concern, really; the defense was fine, even if Panama scored twice when that match was already decided, on top of its shock opener, while the attack notched a healthy eight goals, even with the Jamaica shutout. It was more just that the team looked good but not great, not as fluid in motion as it has in the past.
Whatever doubts may have lingered heading into the round of 16 were swiftly and violently erased in an eight-minute period that saw France not only sweep aside the wonderful story of Morocco (that sounds familiar!), but also reassert its claim as title contenders in a tournament that feels wide open. Those eight minutes, from the 15th to the 23rd minutes of the first half, saw France stop messing around and just press its talent advantage on an overwhelmed Moroccan side, who might have been happy to be here but were certainly not happy pretty soon after kickoff.
It was almost too simple of a start for France on Tuesday, as three passes got the ball from around midfield and into the back of the net in the aforementioned 15th minute. After receiving a pass and playing a give-and-go, left back Sakina Karchaoui found the team's leading scorer, Kadidiatou Diani, somehow uncovered inside the six-yard box for an elementary finish with her head:
It was Diani five minutes later who would provide an assist of her own, playing a give-and-go with Kenza Dali (whose "give" part of the move was a gorgeous flick-on that released Diani into acres of space), with the latter scoring a pinpoint first-touch shot with her right foot off the post and in.
When that goal went in, everyone watching was probably thinking about how the contest was essentially over because Morocco was not likely to score two goals against France's stalwart defen—oh, wait, France just scored again. The third one had, unfortunately, less to do with France's superiority and more from a panicked clearance by Moroccan defender Nesryne El Chad. Under pressure from Diani, El Chad kicked it off the attacker's leg, and the resulting rebound went straight to Eugénie Le Sommer inside the penalty box, and the veteran French star made no mistake with her finish:
France went on to add another goal in the 70th minute, courtesy of Le Sommer once again, but by then both teams seemed to accept the inevitable. France probably could have pushed for more goals, but there's no goal difference to care about in the knockouts, so why bother? Unlike its quarterfinal opponent Australia, who pushed on after their own insurmountable lead on Monday, France has no home crowd to rally them forward, like it did at the last World Cup.
This time around, even with the somewhat underwhelming group stage performance, France is on track to dispense every obstacle between the team and the trophy. Next up are the hosts, and the French will likely look at the entire country as just one more thing that they have to overcome. They might not be as fancy or cool or precise as some of the remaining teams in the field as it narrows to eight, but Les Bleues might have the strongest killer instinct left. As Morocco found out, if you give France an opening, they will take it in the blink of an eye, tilting the match in their favor before anyone truly noticed what was happening.