As the opening game of the SheBelieves Cup approaches, VAVEL USA will be profiling each of the four teams returning for the second edition of the tournament. France enter the tournament as one of the favorites for the Euros this summer, but a disappointing history at world tournaments, including an 0-2-1 performance at last year's SheBelieves Cup in which they failed to score a single goal. New head coach Olivier Echouafni has assembled a strong squad who will be looking to put 2016 behind them and test themselves against three of the best teams in the world.
Who's Bringing the Goals?
Where are the goals going to come from? That’s the seemingly eternal question for Les Bleues, who, for all their exquisite technical play, can be positively wasteful in front of their opponent’s goal. Nowhere was that more clear than their 2016 SheBelieves clash with the United States, who by all rights should have gone into halftime down multiple goals, and would have, except for career-best performances from Hope Solo and the woodwork. Instead Eugenie Le Sommer, put off by the ball’s awkward bounce, squandered a free shot and the two teams went in 0-0 at halftime, which the US parlayed into a dominant second half and late winner.
That pattern (early struggle, resilience, dramatic scramble to victory) is the template for many US victories and French defeats. In many ways the teams are mirror images: despite all kinds of shambles the US will find a way to win, and the French will unerringly take their foot off the gas and undo the fine groundwork they had laid for themselves. The good news for France is that Amandine Henry and Wendie Renard, two defensive players with impressive attacking abilities, will be making their first SheBelieves Cup appearance, after missing the action in 2016 due to injury. Henry is a world-class distributor and possesses a wicked long-range shot, and the 5’11” Renard is an imposing presence on set pieces. Those two can create opportunities or draw attention, leaving more under-the-radar players free to do the damage themselves. Both veterans will be key for France if they are going to right the ship from a year ago, when they failed to score a goal in three games, and head into Euros with a strong record against top-ranked teams.
Nouvelle Vague in the Midfield
Like the other teams competing in the tournament, France are in the process of integrating their veterans with their young talent, including eight players under the age of 23, all of whom have at least one cap for the national team. The most interesting area this is happening in is the midfield, where you have 30+ players like Camille Abily and Elise Bussaglia paired with up and comers Grace Geyoro and Sandie Toletti. Clashing styles aren’t the concern; most of the French players came through the same academy, Clairefontaine, or play on the same club teams so they are accustomed to the same style of play. What will be most interesting to watch is what, if any, young players step up against the best teams in the world and translate France’s seamless possession into solid results. One player to keep your eye on is Claire Lavogez. An elegantly crafty midfielder who is already firmly entrenched in the team at just 22 years old, she could be France’s breakout player in 2017.
New Cycle, New Coach
Much of the responsibility for the team’s success falls on new head coach Olivier Echouafni, who took control of the team from Philippe Bergeroo in September 2016. The French are notorious under-performers on the world stage and will be counting on the SheBelieves Cup as a referendum on the team before they head into the Euros, a tournament the French have never won. Echouafni, who had never coached a women’s team before being handed the reins of the full national team, has a solid base of players, including two world-class and wholly unflappable center-backs in Renard and Griedge Mbock Bathy. Strong individual players and a consistent style of play should keep France steady as Echouafni begins to put his personal stamp on the team. His greatest test will be whether he can bring Les Bleues over the final hurdle and see them atop the podium come March 7th.
France Roster by Position:
Goalkeepers (3): Sarah Bouhaddi (Olympique Lyonnais), Méline Gerard (Olympique Lyonnais), Laëtitia Philippe (Montpellier HSC)
Defenders (7): Laura Georges (Paris Saint-Germain), Jessica Houara D’Hommeaux (Olympique Lyonnais), Sakina Karchaoui (Montpellier HSC), Griedge MBock Bathy (Olympique Lyonnais), Eve Perisset (Paris Saint-Germain), Wendie Renard (Olympique Lyonnais), Aïssatou Tounkara (FCF Juvisy)
Midfielders (8): Camille Abily (Paris Saint-Germain), Elise Bussaglia (VFL Wolfsburg), Grace Geyoro (Paris Saint-Germain), Amandine Henry (Paris Saint-Germain), Claire Lavogez (Olympique Lyonnais), Amel Majri (Olympique Lyonnais), Gaёtane Thiney (FCF Juvisy), Sandie Toletti (Montpellier HSC)
Forwards (5): Camille Catala (FCF Juvisy), Marie-Laure Delie (Paris Saint-Germain), Kadidiatou Diani (FCF Juvisy), Eugénie Le Sommer (Olympique Lyonnais), Elodie Thomis (Olympique Lyonnais)