With her slender frame and swaggering stride, Elodie Thomis has the look of a footballer and an intense determination to go with it. Here is a player who knows exactly what she wants, and after missing out on a goal in France's 5-0 win over Argentina , Thomis intends to go out and get one against Congo DR on Monday.
In a country where women footballers tend to take up the game by accident, Thomis proved no exception to the rule. Having started out as a sprinter and long-distance runner with an athletics club in the Paris area, her sporting career was to take an unexpected turn. She explained: "I went to renew my licence one day, when I saw a poster announcing a trial for women footballers. As I used to play in my local neighbourhood, I thought it was worth a try and went along. Fortunately, they were impressed by what they saw."
Having honed her pace on the athletics track, Thomis' natural position was in attack, and by the age of 15 she was banging the goals in with Epinay-sur-Seine and Colombes before graduating to the national football academy in Clairefontaine. She spent three years there developing her game and building some firm friendships, most notably with Louisa Necib, Les Bleuettes' talented playmaker.
Over the years the two have forged an almost telepathic bond on the pitch. "She is a tremendously gifted player and her final ball is always brilliant," enthused Thomis. "I rely on my pace and she's so skilful she can always find me. She knows exactly where to put the ball and I know when to run into space. It's something you can't really explain. It just happens."
The combination certainly looked to be in good working order against the Argentines, and all that was missing were the goals from the normally reliable Thomis. "It's very frustrating for strikers when you don't score. You start asking yourself questions," admitted the livewire forward. "The fact is that I did create chances against Argentina and if I'd applied myself a bit more, I would have scored. I would have been really down if we'd lost that game, I can tell you."
'Thom', as she is known in the game, has already turned her thoughts to the Congo DR clash and is more determined than ever to make up for her goalless debut. After all, for the French goal machine to go one game without scoring is bad enough - two is positively unthinkable. "We're fairly confident," she said, "but we're not getting carried away. We watched Congo in their first match and they gave a good account of themselves against the USA . The fact is though, if we play our game, we should get the job done."
'Happy to be underdogs'
Despite her burning ambition to succeed, Thomis is keeping her feet firmly on the ground. Coach Stephane Pilard has warned his girls about the dangers of being over-confident and the message seems to have sunk in, at least as far as Elodie is concerned.
"We're just going to keep on playing our game and not get carried away," she says. "Anything can happen in football and we could lose to Congo on Monday. I don't really care if people start calling us favourites. That's no good to us. We're happy to be underdogs because that means people will leave us in peace."
Outsiders or not, the French certainly impressed everyone with their performance against Argentina. The reason for that perhaps lies in the excellent spirit within the French camp, a camaraderie forged despite two different generations coming together, with Elodie - who turned 20 on 13 August - one of the more experienced members of the squad.
She said: "We went over to talk to the new girls straightaway, and we all get on really well - it's one of our strong points. The older players aren't too proud to get on with the younger ones. In fact, we all encourage each other. The fringe players are always ready to perform even if they're on the bench and we know that. The coach always talks about the '11 who start' and not the '11 first-teamers'. He emphasises the fact that we're a group."
Thomis already has six full caps to her name and has her eyes on next year's FIFA Women's World Cup . There are certainly plenty of places up for grabs, something that national coach Elisabeth Loisel no doubt had in mind when she delivered her motivational message to the U-20s on the eve of their Russian adventure: "
"Anything can happen," Loisel said then. "You might even get called up to the senior side for next year's World Cup. So just carry on working hard because we have a great chance. I believe the World Championship in Russia will allow us to show exactly what we can do."
Just one more incentive for Les Bluettes, if any were needed, to break down the Congolese rearguard on Monday.