Les Bleus were up against Las Chicas Superpoderosas in the second group stage match on Saturday evening, with three points up for grabs in what promised to be an intriguing encounter in Moncton.
After a slender 1-0 win for the French in their opener against England, they were hoping for a better performance and similiar result as they faced the Colombians, who had scored their first ever World Cup finals goal in the previous fixture to steal a point late on against Mexico.
France dominated the early going, and were unlucky not to break the deadlock early on. Louisa Nécib, one of the world's best, came close twice in quick succession with narrow efforts flashing wide of the post. Colombia struggled to grab a foothold in the match, and the favourites were dominating possession as well as dictating the tempo of the game, keeping hold of the ball despite some admirable pressure at times in the midfield area.
Against the run of play, it was in-fact Colombia who took the lead, with their first real half-chance of the game. Lady Andrade cooly slotted her effort beyond goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi after being played through onside with a perfectly-weighted through ball towards her path by Rincon Torres, she simply could not miss. Twenty minutes played, and it's fair to say that France were shocked. Having dominated early on, they had nothing to show for it, as the Colombian women ran to celebrate a well-taken goal with their team-mates and coaching staff on the touchline.
After the opener...
France continued to press despite Colombia holding a one-goal advantage, and came close to equalising before the half-time interval on a number of occasions. A few teasing balls were fizzed into the box, only for Sandra Sepúlveda to do well dealing with danger when called upon, to keep her side in the lead. Andrade displayed a few neat skill moves near the byline with time ticking down, much to the pleasure of the Canadian crowd. The two sides walked off down the tunnel after referee Qin Lang blew her whistle after just a minute of stoppage time, with the underdogs ahead, albeit by a slender margin.
As the second-half began, France started out of the blocks quickly. Just a minute into the second 45, a curling strike by midfielder Élise Bussaglia was swerving into the top corner of the net, but for a fantastic acrobatic fingertip stop by Sepúlveda, who appeared to feel the full effects of the save afterwards. She was struggling for a few minutes, receiving treatment from the physio, but thankfully she was able to continue as the match continued to intensify.
Substitutions came in quick succession as both teams were eager to make alterations around the hour mark. Usme came on in place of Vidal, whilst both Nécib and Bussaglia were replaced by Henry and Lavogez with 25 minutes left to play. Sepúlveda's heroics were not over, as she did well to rush off her line and respond to the danger as France carved open a golden opportunity to level the scoring on the edge of the box. Controversy came into play as the French women were wildly protesting that the goalkeeper had handled the ball outside her area, marginally, and after consulting with the linesman on the far side, Lang signalled for a free-kick on the edge of the box.
The free-kick was taken, but Sepúlveda saw the shot all the way as it flashed over the wall and into her goalkeeping gloves. Diana Ospina was the second player in the referee's book for a yellow card for dissent, after she angrily kicked the ball away as a decision went against her. Time continued to tick down and France did all they could to get back into the match, having dominated in the clear-cut chances department. Colombia used subtle tactics to try and wind down the clock as the French piled on the pressure and the South Americans did their best to stay strong and compact defensively.
The fourth official signalled for four minutes of stoppage time to be played, on the elctronic board. Only a few minutes away from what would have been an impressive victory for the underdogs, whilst France continued to throw everything they had to try and salvage a point and stay at the top of the group. Goalscorer Andrade was replaced by Tatiana Ariza in added time as Les Bleus pinned their opponents in their own half. A cutback was played into the area, just a few yards away from goal, but somehow, a Colombian body blocked a shot which was goalwards, out for a corner-kick. France had one more opportunity to snatch a hard-fought point, but an audacious touch from Bouhaddi outside her area gifted Colombia the ball on the counter attack, and they punished her to devastating effect with a minute-and-a-half left to play. The ball was squared to Usme, who curled her strike beyond the 'keeper into the bottom corner of the net - sending the players into sheer jubilation.
After snatching a point against Mexico in their opener, and grabbing all three points against heavily-fancied France this evening, they have all but qualified for the knock-out stages of this year's Women's World Cup - with their remaining fixture against England, who'll be hoping to get their first points on the board as they entertain Mexico later tonight.