France have appeared regularly at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup over the years, performing at five of the seven tournaments to date. Les Bleuettes’ greatest achievement came during their last appearance at Canada 2014, where they claimed third place by defeating Korea DPR 3-2, having suffered a 2-1 semi-final loss to Germany earlier in the week. The French had taken part in the play-off for third place once before, at Chile 2008, where they lost to Germany (5-3). On that occasion, it was the North Koreans who had beaten them (2-1) at the semi-final stage. Both of those tricky opponents represent something of a bogey team for France; the Asians put paid to their tournament hopes in the quarter-finals of Russia 2006, while the Germans twice finished ahead of them in the group stage, in 2002 and 2010.
During the 2015 UEFA Women’s U-19 Championship, which also acted as the European qualifying campaign for the 2016 U-20 Women’s World Cup in Papua New Guinea, France got their quest for a fourth continental crown off to a great start, winning all three of their group encounters. In their semi-final against Spain, they opened the scoring through Marie-Charlotte Leger, but conceded an equaliser a few minutes later, the first goal they had conceded in the competition. The match finished 1-1, but a cruel climax lay in store for the French, as Leger, her country’s top scorer at the tournament, missed from the spot during the ensuing penalty shoot-out and handed victory to the Spaniards. “A lack of killer instinct in front of goal is something that’s always tripped up French teams – female and male,” said coach Gilles Eyquem. “However, I think that this particular team matured during the tournament. I saw my players make real progress, and become more self-confident and assertive,” he added.
There is no doubt that women’s football in France is currently on a high, although the U-20 side, much like the senior XI, has struggled to make that final step up to a global final. The European nation’s greatest accomplishment in women’s football to date – all age categories combined – remains the U-17 team’s memorable triumph at Azerbaijan 2012, a success that was achieved by a generation that will be well represented in the national squad at Papua New Guinea 2016.