It’s simple, really. If you’re American, and watching the 2015 World Cup out of national pride, you should root for the United States of America. If you want to see the best team just flat-out overpowering their overmatched victims, don’t miss a Germany game. But if you’re tuning in to have fun, to be entertained, to see the sport at its most attractive and most intricate, you should cheer for France.
It’s hard to believe, but France are still relatively new as a world power. They made the World Cup in 2003, and bowed out in the group stage. And then we didn’t hear too much about Les Bleues. As time went by, their team gave way to a younger generation. And then that generation got good.
In 2009, the French reached the quarterfinal of the European Championships. In 2011, France finished fourth in the World Cup. In 2012, they finished fourth in the London Olympics. In 2013, they again crashed out in the quarterfinal of the European Championships. But through it all, with every single setback, the French have gotten a little bit older, a little bit more experienced.
Today, France’s roster boasts seven players who have logged over 100 appearances with the squad, and seven players who have scored over 25 goals for their country. The scary thing is, they’re not even old. This is a team in its prime, stacked with grown-ass women in their mid- to late-20s who are still at their physical peak, many of whom play club ball together in France on Olympique Lyon or Paris Saint-Germain when not with the national team, and who have been on this stage before. They beat everyone.
France qualified for the World Cup by finishing 10-0 in UEFA qualifiers, scoring 54 goals on the way, while only allowing three. Since then, France have scalped the best teams in the world while preparing for the tournament, including Canada, Germany, England, and enough others to move to third in the world, their highest ranking ever.
Here they are beating the fucking brakes off defending world champions Japan just three months ago:
Though they are consistently great, the French are still vulnerable to the world’s best teams. After beating the United States 2-0 in December, they lost to their rivals by the same score in March, just after their Japan triumph. Still, this is a team that can and should play through anyone when everything’s going well. For the first time in their history, they’re not underdogs. This is the tournament France have been waiting for.
Goalkeepers: Céline Deville (FCF Juvisy), Méline Gérard (Olympique Lyon), Sarah Bouhaddi (Olympique Lyon).
Defenders: Laure Boulleau (Paris Saint-Germain), Anaïg Butel (FCF Juvisy), Sabrina Delannoy (Paris Saint-Germain), Laura Georges (Paris Saint-Germain), Jessica Houara (Paris Saint-Germain), Amel Majri (Olympique Lyon), Griedge Mbock Bathy (EA Guingamp), Wendie Renard (Olympique Lyon).
Midfielders: Camille Abily (Olympique Lyon), Élise Bussaglia (Olympique Lyon), Kenza Dali (Paris Saint-Germain), Kheira Hamraoui (Paris Saint-Germain), Amandine Henry (Olympique Lyon), Claire Lavogez (Montpellier HSC), Louisa Nécib (Olympique Lyon), Élodie Thomis (Olympique Lyon).
Forwards: Marie-Laure Delie (Paris Saint-Germain), Kadidiatou Diani (FCF Juvisy), Eugénie Le Sommer (Olympique Lyon), Gaëtane Thiney (FCF Juvisy).
Les Bleues (The Blues)
France generally line up in a 4-2-3-1, and they generally pass around, through, and over teams, all game long, no matter what. They can do this because they have a handful of the most creative passing players in the world. Treat yourself, and watch this video of Louisa Nécib, who should be expected to run the show and unlock opposing defenses.
Nécib is unique in women’s soccer. The women’s game differs from the men’s in that the sport as a whole is top-heavy. In virtually every team, the best player can be found up front. The best players in the world are, almost to a woman, forwards. They are devastating to watch, because the best in the world so often aren’t just technically better than their opponents, but also physically too much. They are too fast, too big, and too strong. And because the women’s game is more open than the men’s game, there are far more opportunities in women’s matches to release a forward with a ball behind the back four and watch the strikers run past the center backs as if they’re on rollerblades. This gives the impression that the strikers are playing at a different pace than the rest of the players, because so often, they are.
Nécib often looks like she’s playing at a different pace, as well, but terrifyingly, she appears to be moving slower. That’s because playing in a free role, Nécib often finds holes between opposing midfield and defensive lines. She’s a ghost. Once she picks up the ball and turns toward the defense, she becomes a demon, picking out the right pass, or dribbling herself, or teeing up for a long shot. The 28-year-old is jaw-droppingly creative, and her movement affords her all the time to do magical things with the ball, all the time. She is simply better than any other midfielder in the world, and it’s not close.
But this is one of the top attacks in the world, and though Nécib is the most important piece, she’s surrounded by assassins. Élodie Thomis is one of the best wingers in the world, and is so fast that from the flank, she can beat defenders, turn, and go to goal herself. Strikers Gaëtane Thiney and Marie-Laure Delie are the third- and second-leading scorers in French women’s history with 55 and 58 goals, respectively. Amandine Henry is a force in the midfield. And if that weren’t enough, forward Eugénie Le Sommer, the fourth-leading scorer in the team’s history, can win matches by herself.
The only reason they’re not a shoo-in to go far is because if they finish first over England, Colombia, and Mexico in Group F, then Germany, who hung 10 on Côte d’Ivoire over the weekend, will almost definitely be waiting in the quarterfinal. The winner of that match could end up hoisting the trophy by tournament’s end.
June 9, 1 p.m.: France vs. England at Moncton Stadium
June 13, 1 p.m.: France vs. Colombia at Moncton Stadium
June 17, 4 p.m.: Mexico vs. France at Landsdowne Stadium
All times Eastern
Photo Credit: Getty Images