France, this year’s World Cup hosts, will be gunning for victory on home soil this summer, and they are definitely among the favourites to go all the way. In fact, they may never get a better chance; fresh from club success in the Champions League with Lyon this season, Les Bleus will be a threat to the likes of the United States, who are overall favourites, Germany, and Phil Neville’s England. Their journey towards their first title starts at the Parc Des Princes on Friday, against Korea Republic.
Like all good international sides, they are built around the most successful in their domestic league. Lyon have won the last five league titles and four Champions Leagues, having been crowned queens of Europe six times in all.
France boss Corinne Diacre has a very talented squad at her disposal, with a great blend of youth and experience. The likes of Amandine Henry, a 29-year-old driving midfielder and captain of the side, and her Lyon clubmate Eugenie Le Sommer will lead from the front alongside Paris FC’s Gaetane Thiney, who is likely to surpass 160 international caps this summer. The likes of 22-year-old Lyon striker Delphine Cascarino and PSG midfielder Grace Geyoro, 21, will also be looking to impress.
During the last World Cup in Canada, when France reached the semi finals, they were particularly expressive and entertaining to watch. A shift in emphasis, though, means they now look to hit teams on the counter attack, which could cause problems against their minnow opponents in their opening game.
The South Koreans are appearing in just their third World Cup, but they do have something to build on, having reached the last 16 stage in 2015. With Chelsea midfielder Ji So-yun and West Ham United’s Cho So-hyun expecting to play a huge part, there are some expectations on their shoulders, but in reality, they don’t start here.
South Korea come into this match having not won in three games, and with just three victories in their last eight matches. Though there are a few issues for France to iron out if they are to mount a genuine challenge for the trophy, their recent form has them in confident mood. A defeat to Germany is their only loss in 11 games dating back to the start of 2018, with the other 10 matches all won. Three points shouldn’t be too hard to come by here, but three players could have a real impact on the game for either side.
Eugenie Le Sommer
The 30-year-old is France’s star turn, and the woman who they’ll look to for both leadership and inspiration. Le Sommer comes into this tournament in superb form, having helped inspire Lyon to yet another Champions League crown with six goals in eight games.
It could be a special month for her personally, as she is expected to become her country’s all time leading goalscorer, currently sitting on 74 from 159 games. Her record is incredibly impressive considering the withdrawn role she often plays for both club and country; Le Sommer’s link play is crucial to making their reserved style of play work, and she is definitely the one to watch for South Korea on Friday.
The worrying thing for France is their lack of goals elsewhere. The other strikers in the squad have just 26 goals between them, meaning there will be a lot of pressure on Le Sommer over the next month or so.
If Korea Republic are to make any sort of impact in this game and the tournament as a whole, Ji really needs to step up. She scored in her side’s last victory over New Zealand, and plays a key role for Emma Hayes’ Chelsea side, scoring six goals in 17 games in the Women’s Super League, two in the Champions League, and making the Team of the Year in England. Ji coming up against France’s midfield will make this a very interesting watch, especially if she presses high and forces them even deeper than they will start at kick off.
France’s captain, Henry, will slot in behind Le Sommer for France and control the game from a deep position. The pair have a great understanding from Lyon, and her ability in possession will be paramount in this game. France will have to move the ball quickly in order to break down a stubborn Korean side, and that will come from Henry first. France are in some ways dark horses this summer, but in other ways, there are lots of reasons to get excited about the hosts going far.