France defeated Nigeria 1-0 in the opening game of the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup on Sunday behind a 56th minute from Marie-Laure Delie, but it was not the most convincing effort for France.
The French, which some consider to be a dark horse in this tournament, came out strong against a Nigeria team that elected to pack it in defensively and play counter attacking soccer. Louisa Necib and Sonia Bompastor dominated the left side early and often. France looked to attack almost exclusively through its left flank in the opening half hour and had a couple of great opportunities through Elise Bussaglia and Wendie Renard.
But France’s defensive weakness was highlighted by Desire Oparanozie’s breakaway in the 23rd minute. Oparanozie sent her shot harmlessly (and wastefully) wide, but she showed that Nigeria could break through the French defense.
Center backs Laura Georges and Ophelie Meilleroux looked shaky at times, but most concerning for France moving forward is goalkeeper Berangere Sapowicz. She was shaky in the air and could not deal with any crosses.
Such uncertainty in the back will be punished by Germany – as learned by Canada and goalkeeper Erin McLeod on Sunday – and the Canadians, who employ a lethal Christine Sinclair up top. If France cannot sort out issues in the back, it will concede against both of those sides. Nigeria was able to hang around in this game far longer than it should have.
Necib was a definite bright spot and Delie will need to have a breakout tournament to help France advance. The typically solid Camille Abily was invisible on the evening and needs to have more of a presence in the midfield. Her touch was off and her positioning never allowed her to be dangerous on the day.
Eugine Le Sommer was not spectacular, but the halftime substitute did change the game and provided the service on Delie’s goal.
Meanwhile, Nigeria looked better than expected but offered little that should worry Canada or Germany. Nigeria’s best shot at points was Sunday against France and the Super Falcons came out empty handed.
Oparanozie looked good as a target forward, but stars Stella Mbachu and Perpetua Nkwocha did nothing on the day. Their leadership is going to be needed, particularly if defender Faith Ikidi – a leader in the back – is hurt. Ikidi had to leave the game in the 34th minute due to apparent injury.
Nigeria next faces Germany in this Group of Death and that could bring a very quick death to Nigeria’s hopes in this tournament. Thursday’s France-Canada match will likely decide which of those teams gets out of the group. It’s a must-win for Canada after losing 2-1 to Germany on Sunday.
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