Striker Marie-Laure Delie is one of the first names on the teamsheet for France, who have surprised many onlookers by reaching the semi-finals of the FIFA Women’s World Cup Germany 2011™. With a record of almost a goal a game in international football, the on-form forward is sure to approach Wednesday’s match with USA brimming with confidence.
France supporters and lovers of curious statistics may have noted that the French attacker lined up against England in the quarter-final boasting identical totals in her international goals and caps columns: 23 in 23. Stretching the idea just a little further, she also happens to be 23 years of age, and her debut for Les Bleues came on 23 September 2009.
While intriguing to some, the player in question does not appear to pay much attention to such figures. “I don’t really think about things like that; I’m just happy to give 100 per cent out on the pitch,” Delie explained in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com.
Upon hearing that her success rate in front of goal is higher with her country than with her club, she reacts more effusively. “I really raise my game when I pull on the French jersey – it gets me going. And there’s also the fact that in the French league, everyone knows each other, and your opponents are familiar with your style of play,” she explained.
“There are some teams that stick ten bodies behind the ball, marking extremely tightly. Here, on the other hand, we have the element of surprise. It’s actually something I’ve noticed in international football since I was young,” she continued.
“I also went through a bit of a crisis of confidence at club level this season; I had real trouble putting the ball in the net,” the Montpellier player added, after some thought. While her 14 goals – In 21 matches – would seem a reasonable return in any forward’s book, the mental blocks she describes have evidently not affected her when she has stepped into the international arena in recent times.
“Right from the start, I’ve felt at home in this team. Even when I wasn’t a first choice, I knew that the coach rated me,” she said.
Her patience would eventually pay off, as France coach Bruno Bini explained: “Marie-Laure really came to life at the Cyprus Cup, where she just couldn’t stop scoring. Strikers often have exceptional spells like that, and they can last a long time. Remember Jean Pierre Papin? His prolific period lasted four years, whereas she’s only been knocking them in for three months or so. Shots that previously hit the post or went wide now find the back of the net. She’s put in a lot of work to get to this point, and it’s only fair that the work gets rewarded.”
Delie is aware that impressive numbers are not always sufficient to leave a lasting impression, and is quite clear about her immediate ambitions: “Making it to the last four is absolutely fantastic, but our goal is to lift the World Cup. We didn’t come here to tour Germany’s tourist attractions. It’s great that we’re already qualified for London 2012, but now we want to win the next two matches.”
Paradoxically, this hunger for success comes with a very relaxed attitude, something she views as conducive to good performances: “I’m calm; I’m just keen to play and to win. We’re really immersed in the competition and not affected by external pressures. We’re fortunate to be in our own little bubble. The way in which the German players were all over the media here must have been a mentally exhausting experience for them. They were expected to win, while we arrived here as outsiders.”
The group-stage defeat suffered by Les Bleues at the hands of the now-eliminated host nation does not seem to have unduly damaged the morale of the French goal machine. “Actually, I would say that our ability to keep pulling goals back coupled with our general second-half performance have actually made us stronger. We could have given up and gone down 5-0 but we showed some pride which, when all is said and done, is a positive thing,” she said.
Now another heavyweight of the women’s game blocks France’s – and Delie’s – route to the Final. “I’ve already played against USA, but it was at U-20 level in 2008, and we lost 3-0. I’ve watched their games here – they’re a well-balanced, complete team, with a physical aspect to their play that is very impressive,” she pointed out.
Both the French and the Americans were forced to battle through extra time and a penalty shoot-out to secure their ticket for the semi-final. As Delie brings the interview to a close so that she can get some valuable rest, it is clear that she and her team-mates are again ready to give their all to in order to make further progress in the tournament.