EAST HARTFORD, Conn. – Three years ago, France’s coming out party ended one game short of a World Cup final. At the 2012 London Olympics, a stoppage time goal denied Les Bleues a bronze medal.
Now, 12 months from the next Women’s World Cup, there are higher expectations for France.
France’s magical 2011 World Cup campaign firmly placed its women’s program on the global map, and despite being underdogs, the squad outplayed the United States for large stretches of the semifinal. France played well enough to beat Canada in the 2012 Olympic bronze medal match, but again conceded a late goal as Les Bleues earned a reputation for blowing leads.
Those issues — along with the quarterfinal exit at Euro 2013 — were all under ex-coach Bruno Bini.
But there wasn’t – and still isn’t – any question about the wealth of talent for France. Technically and tactically, France is as good as any team in the world, but Les Bleues have not yet felt what it is like to win in the final stages. As Philippe Bergeroo’s squad prepares for another match against the United States on Thursday, a year before the 2015 World Cup, the coach and players feel like past failures will bring future success.
“In 2011, for most of the players, it was their first World Cup, so we didn’t have a lot of experience,” said midfielder Camille Abily, who played in the U.S. in WPS for the Los Angeles Sol and FC Gold Pride before her current team, Lyon. “I think it helps a lot when you know already the competition and with the new coach it is more professional now. And even the French federation helps us more than before.”
The feeling is reiterated throughout French camp. Gaëtane Thiney repeated the word “experience” several times when talking about the progression of the French team from 2011 to now.
“I think in the head we are stronger, because we have played the Olympic Games, World Cup semifinal against big teams,” Thiney said. “So I think we progressed and the U.S. has a big motto. They think, ‘we win all games.’ So for us, it’s psychology between two teams.”
Psychology is the key word. The United States embodies an “I believe” mentality, with which dramatic, late goals are the norm. France has displayed the opposite on the big stage, letting go of games late. But with lessons learned from past failures, the French could be legitimate World Cup title contenders in 2015. There’s no doubting the talent: Thiney, Louisa Necib, Eugénie Le Sommer, Marie-Laure Delie, Élodie Thomis – the list goes on. Too often, though, France plays “afraid” against the United States, Thiney said on Wednesday.
“Our team is many players who are not the same,” Thiney said. “We are very complementary to play because we are taller, smaller, very fast. I think there are many, many skills on the team.”
Necib, who typically attacks from a deeper, wider role, agrees.
“It’s good to play with good players,” Necib said through a translator. “I’ve progressed and it’s good to have the same spirit, tactical and technical.”
Bergeroo said France is particularly focused on improving its physicality on this trip to the United States.
France will be battle-tested come next summer, too. In addition to these two matches against the United States – the first of which the U.S. won on Saturday – Bergeroo says France will play at Germany in October and at England next April. Bergeroo is also trying to schedule a trip to Japan for the team before the World Cup, and he wants to play in the Algarve Cup next year for better competition after France won the 2014 Cyprus Cup.
The hope is that these experiences translate to a place on the podium at the next World Cup.
“The goal of the team is to be regular with the results,” he said.