France’s challenge at the upcoming FIFA Women’s World Cup Germany 2011™ will hinge to a large extent on the form of Camille Abily, Elodie Thomis and Laura Georges. Just as crucial to Les Bleues, however, will be the experience of seasoned campaigner Sandrine Soubeyrand, a legend of the French game.
Now 37, the France captain has made over 150 international appearances and became the country’s most capped player last October, when she passed Lilian Thuram’s previous record of 142 caps.
“Tonight we are seeing one star of the game replace another,” commented Les Bleues coach Bruno Bini on Soubeyrand’s record-breaking night last autumn. “Lilian was a star on the pitch and so is Sandrine, and I just wish every coach could count on players of their quality.”
“Obviously it’s an honour for me, but I honestly don’t see it as being that important,” the unassuming Soubeyrand tells FIFA.com, modestly playing down her achievement. “I don’t know exactly how many appearances I’ve made but I do remember all the games. It’s a reward for the work I do every day just to keep on going, but when all’s said and done they’re nothing more than numbers.”
Soubeyrand and her team-mates were in unstoppable form in reaching Germany 2011, winning 11 of their qualifiers and drawing the other, while scoring 53 goals and conceding just two. “Those figures are very positive, flattering even,” she says. “I wouldn’t read too much into them, though. All due respect to the teams we beat, who are developing nations on the international scene, but it’s going to be a lot tougher for us in Germany. Believe me, we’re not going there for the sightseeing.”
The vastly experienced Soubeyrand knows as well as anyone in the France team what to expect when the biggest show in women’s football gets under way. An international since 1997, the defensive midfielder has appeared at four UEFA European Women's Championships and the FIFA Women’s World Cup USA 2003, and has also won two French titles with her club Juvisy, where she has spent the last 11 years, winning the national Women’s Player of the Year award in 2003.
“If people respect me for anything, it’s because I’ve been around for so long,” she adds. “I’m not an isolated case, though. A few of my team-mates have been playing for just as long as me. I suppose I’m something of an example in terms of experience, but if I can also set an example with my passion for the game, then so much the better.”
Another of Soubeyrand’s many admirers is Bini’s assistant coach Corrine Diacre, a former holder of the French caps record with 121 internationals: “What she’s achieved is just huge, and she’s got this far because of her desire. The hardest thing is knowing when to stop and timing it right. If we can put on a good show at the World Cup, then I think it could be a great way for her to end her career.”
“Winning the World Cup would be amazing,” says Soubeyrand, who is clearly not thinking of retirement just yet. “What you can’t do is put any limits on your dreams and goals. That’s not something I do. I try to make the most of every moment I have and give myself the chance of staying at the top. If one day it ends, then that’s just the way it goes. My international debut more or less came about by chance and I can see things finishing how they started.”
“You need strong people in this game and in that respect I know I can count on Sandrine,” concludes Bini, who knows his veteran skipper will not let him down, come what may in Germany.