France have advanced to the quarter-finals of FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup with a 10-2 win over Gambia at Baku’s Dalga Arena. A 1-1 draw in the match between group rivals Korea DPR and USA left the French needing to win by a margin of six or more, and they did just that, despite their African opponents managing their first goals of the tournament.
With Gambia having conceded 17 and scored none in their opening two matches, Les Bleuettes began with an attack-minded line-up in which Pauline Cousin, Kadidiatou Diani, Laurie Saulnier and Lea Declercq all started. It wasn’t long before they began eating into the goals-for advantage of the teams above them, with Declercq teeing up the unmarked Cousin to slot home from close range in 11 minutes.
Gambia’s packed defence was proving more successful than in previous matches, but they fell two behind 14 minutes later when the unfortunate Metta Sanneh headed into her own net from a Declercq corner. With two assists already to her name, Declercq turned scorer ten minutes later, crashing home a powerful shot after good approach play by Diani and Sandie Toletti.
France needed to at least match their first-half goal tally in the second period, but disaster struck just three minutes into the second half when a Cindy Perrault slip allowed Pendah Bah in for Gambia’s first-ever goal at the FIFA U-17 World Cup. Candice Gherbi re-established France’s three-goal cushion with a powerful header five minutes later, but another defensive lapse – this time from goalkeeper Sainey Sissohore – allowed 13-year-old Sainey Sissohore to become the youngest goalscorer in the tournament’s history with 21 minutes remaining.
Les Bleuettes’ prospects were looking decidedly bleak at this stage, but a late goalscoring burst took them through to the last eight. Diani raised hopes with a fine solo effort after 71 minutes before setting up Declercq’s second seven minutes later. Giedge Mbock Bathy made it 7-2 from a corner within seconds, while Cousin completed her brace with nine minutes remaining to put her team on the brink.
Fittingly, given her overall contribution, it was Declercq who grabbed the goal that settled French nerves, and Gambia’s misery was compounded in injury time when Mariam Bojang scored her team's second own goal of the match.
"This was definitely one of our hardest games for us as the girls were quite tired. We relied on the other match, but our goal was to obviously to win and we knew it was important to score as many as possible. It took us a while to open the scoring, but the girls were really determined and we did a great job," Guy Ferrier, France coach