Such is the self-confidence and optimism in the French women's squad ahead of the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup, coach Bruno Bini is telling anyone prepared to listen that Les Bleues can go all the way in Germany.
It is less than three years since a new generation of French players burst onto the scene, surprising more than a few pundits with their excellent fourth place finish at the 2008 FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup in Chile. Les Bleuettes made a name for themselves at that tournament with an adventurous attacking style and an obvious love of the game, and that enthusiasm can now be found in the full national side.
Off to Germany with hopes high
It is time for them to take the next step, which means putting in a good showing at the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup just across the border in Germany. Some observers feel they will have their work cut out just to make it through to the quarter-finals from a very tough Group A, but Bini cut a confident figure when he spoke to FIFA.com at the Official Draw in Frankfurt a few weeks ago. "We have a very strong side and our opponents in the group will not be looking forward to playing us," the 56-year-old said.
France face Germany, Canada and Nigeria in the group stage, and Bini is convinced that they will overcome that hurdle. "My first thought was: 'Germany again!' but we won't be facing them until the third group match, so by then we will have had enough time to get the points we need to make it through to the knock-out phase. I reckon we'll come second in the group."
France currently sit eighth in the FIFA/Coca-Cola Women's World Ranking, having honed a winning mentality as they climbed up the table. Bini's team won 11 and drew one of their 12 qualifying matches on the road to Germany, scoring 53 goals in the process and conceding just two. They even had a perfect record in the group stage of the qualifiers, conceding no goals and dropping not so much as a single point. "Congratulations to the French, they have quite a team," said Italy's women's coach Pietro Ghedin after his country came off second best against Les Bleues in the play-offs.
Technique and individuality
France's recent run of form came at just the right time to erase the disappointment of missing out on the last FIFA Women's World Cup in China. Bini took over from Elisabeth Loisel after that unsuccessful campaign in 2007 and breathed new life into the team. Les Bleues have matured greatly over the past four years and form a real collective, with a number of talented individuals coming together to follow the team philosophy.
"We are progressing all the time and fine-tuning our style of play and approach to the game with every match," said assistant coach Andre Barthelemy. The senior squad now reflect former U-20 coach Stephane Pilard’s aspirations, as expressed in an interview with FIFA.com back at Chile 2008: "France's various junior teams all have excellent technique, and it's something that we want to instill at all levels of women's football throughout the country."
At their only previous appearance at a FIFA Women's World Cup, at USA 2003, France narrowly missed out on a place in the quarter-finals. Now, led by Sandrine Soubeyrand, who holds the record for the number of caps for her country and Camille Abily, who won the US Women's Professional Soccer League with FC Gold Pride before securing a move to UEFA Champions League finalists Lyon, Les Bleues seem to be peaking at just the right time.