France made an emphatic start to their world cup campaign thrashing South Korea by four goals to nil in front of over 45,000 fans at the Parc de Princes. Eugénie Le Sommer opened the scoring inside 9 minutes and Wendie Renard put the French in a commanding position before half time with two headed efforts. Amandine Henry then capped off an outstanding individual display five minutes from the end with a sumptuous, curling strike from 20-yards.
A swirling wind was blowing around the stadium during the obligatory opening ceremony, but it didn’t dampen proceedings as a cast of hundreds put the finishing touches on weeks of hype and expectation surrounding the French team. Singing superstar Jain put her dancers – which included contortionists, gymnasts and break-dancers – through their paces before an aerial flyover and fireworks heralded the teams’ arrival.
The game began with France immediately on the front foot. In fact, the only thing blowing harder than the wind in the first half was the Korean defence who just couldn’t get to grips with the relentless, high tempo storm of attacks that Les Bleues generated – much of which came down the right flank from the aptly named Marion Torrent, along with partner in crime Delphine Cascarino.
But it was Le Sommer that made the breakthrough. Any pressure the hosts were feeling was alleviated in the ninth minute when Amandine Henry broke into the penalty area and crossed low for the onrushing Lyon attacker who converted via the underside of the crossbar.
Shell shocked, the Koreans just couldn’t muster a response and things looked to be going from bad to worse on 27 minutes when Griedge Mbock Bathy volleyed in from close range following a neat training ground corner routine involving Madji, Le Sommer and Renard. VAR was brought in to play to check for offside. It took around two minutes for the decision to be ratified and the goal was chalked off – much to the disdain of a noisy and partisan home crowd.
It mattered little. Renard at over six-feet tall had presented all manner of problems to the comparably diminutive Korean defenders every time she came up for corners and, on 35 minutes, she arrived unchallenged in the six-yard box to head home Gaëtane Thiney’s measured flat delivery from the right.
And those two VAR minutes came back to haunt the Koreans in stoppage time at the end of the first half. Amel Majri’s corner from the left was up for grabs and there was only going to be one winner with the French centre back already making her play for the tournament’s first hat-trick and golden boot award. One wonders who will be able to stop Renard at set pieces when she’s in this sort of mood.
At 3-0 the match was over as a contest and it all got a bit scrappy in the second half with the French seemingly content with what they had.
Henry attempted a volley from 25-yards after the Korean’s only half cleared Torrent’s cross, but keeper Kim got down smartly, clearly happier to shot stop than she was to claim crosses.
At the other end it was 64 minutes before French keeper Sarah Bouhaddi even needed to make a catch. The South Korean’s had shuffled their pack bringing on Kang and Lee Min-a who both looked a bit livelier than their colleagues – Women’s Super League stars Ji So-yun and Cho So-hyun just hadn’t been able to make an impact on the game. Kang had their first meaningful shot of the evening following a defensive error but didn’t trouble the score line. Lee then found herself through on goal a few minutes later after more slack passing between the French backline but screwed her shot horribly wide of Bouhaddi’s right hand post.
The match seemed to be fading to black before Henry stepped up to light one more firework on the evening’s proceedings. As early as the 2nd minute she had set her sights on Kim’s goal with a curling effort from the left-hand side of the penalty area. That effort missed the target, but she got her reward a few minutes from full time, working an opening with Le Sommer – repaying in kind her teammates assist from earlier. Henry got the ball out of her feet, the Korean’s backed off and she made no mistake from 20 yards. It sealed a brilliant display from the French captain who had dictated the midfield all evening, spraying passes around and keeping the Koreans penned in for long spells.
So, what have we learned? Well, France once again have lived up to their flat-track bully reputation by convincingly putting away a group-stage opponent that wasn’t regarded as much of a threat to them on paper. They played the occasion well and looked like they were enjoying it.
We know they have goals throughout the team, and they got on the scoreboard early to settle any nerves. It could have been a lot worse for Korea: Diani didn’t get a clear site on goal and Valérie Gauvin wasn’t even in the starting eleven – apparently dropped by Head Coach Corinne Diacre for turning up late to a training session.
Norway should prove a sterner test for France next, in terms of defensive organisation and standing up better to the physical battle. Also, there were some minor lapses in French concentration at the back in the second half that a more ruthless opponent could have exploited – although Renard and co are perhaps more likely to remain switched on against better sides.
As for South Korea, well they need to put this one behind them as quickly as possible and focus on Nigeria. Their already disastrous goal difference means they really need to win against the Super Falcons. Failing that, a point is the absolute minimum requirement or their World Cup will be all over inside a week…