In the first of this weekend’s FIFA Women’s World Cup™ quarter-finals, France, who have never been this far in the competition before, face England for a place in the last four. FIFA.com met up with Les Bleues captain Sandrine Soubeyrand in Leverkusen – the stage for Saturday’s winner-takes-all clash – where she took a stroll down memory lane, selecting the France-England games that have made the greatest impression on her during a long footballing career.
Her first experience of the fixture, on 15 February 1998 in Marseille, less than a year after making her international debut, remains a positive recollection for her. “It was tough going!" she said. "I’d never come across a team that played that way; they would launch the ball forward from the back and chase after it.”
Their opponents’ archetypal long-ball game came close to getting the better of France that day, as Soubeyrand and her team-mates found themselves continually pegged back by a resolute England team. “The game was utterly crazy. We made lots of mistakes, but we eventually won it 3-2,” recalled the international stalwart, who will earn her 164th cap on Saturday.
But her first taste of this combative clash is not necessarily the one she remembers most fondly. “The one I really treasure was in Saint-Etienne in 2002; we won 1-0 with a goal from Corinne Diacre. For me, the match was particularly special because I was born just down the road. I used to go and watch Les Verts at Geoffroy-Guichard stadium when I was little, so to actually appear on that pitch was truly amazing,” stated the 37-year-old Juvisy player.
A charity match in Marseille that coincided with her birthday is another one that sticks in her mind. “The men’s team had just won EURO 2000, and we came on before a France-Rest of the World game. The Velodrome was totally full – it was tremendous,” explained Soubeyrand.
Extending the adventure
Not all of her memories of playing against England bring a smile to the France skipper’s face, however. Surrounded by the empty stands of Bayer Leverkusen’s home ground, she stares off into the distance for a moment.
“In 2006, we’d drawn 0-0 in Blackburn, then 1-1 in Rennes – they were World Cup qualifiers," recalled the veteran midfielder. "Although we didn’t lose, their away goal put them through to the finals, while we stayed at home. It was the end of a generation, as lots of our players retired from international football after that disappointment. We had to go back to the drawing board and rebuild the team.”
Those retirees from that day included stars such as Marinette Pichon, France’s all-time leading scorer with 82 goals. But Soubeyrand would rather look forward to potential future triumphs than dwell on past slip-ups. For this veritable legend of French football, overcoming the Lionesses in the last eight would represent a major highlight of a magnificent career.
“Just like us, their team has changed a lot over the past few years. Even though they’re still a physical side, especially when going for 50-50 balls, they’ve got some skilful players who can beat their opposite number and get the ball forward quickly,” she pointed out, adding, “They’re definitely getting stronger – this is their third World Cup quarter-final, after all. It’ll also be the first time we’ve ever met in a knockout match, but history's made on the pitch not on paper.”
Aware that this will be her last FIFA Women’s World Cup, Soubeyrand would love this current adventure to continue: “We don’t want things to end; our group defeat by Germany really made that clear to us. We want to keep on improving. We know that we’ve got to do a better job of maintaining our consistency and intensity throughout 90 minutes, though,” she concluded. On Saturday in Leverkusen, she will be doing her utmost to ensure that her team-mates achieve exactly that.