France fell at the penultimate hurdle in their charge for glory at London 2012, just as they did at the FIFA Women’s World Cup™ in 2011.
Les Bleues must now pick themselves up and focus on winning Thursday’s bronze medal match in Coventry. In Germany last year, Sweden were their opponents in the match for third place. This time around, it is Canada who stand between them and a place on the podium.
Eugenie Le Sommer, who made a huge impact as a substitute in France’s semi-final defeat by Japan, is keen to put the disappointment behind her and finish London 2012 with a bronze medal around her neck.
“The key for us will be to perform to the best of our ability, from start to finish, and not wait until we’re in trouble to start playing freely,” Le Sommer told FIFA.com. France have been unable to play their best football for a full 90 minutes since the start of their London 2012 campaign, and the Lyon forward knows this has played a part in her side's downfall.
France held a two-goal lead in their opening match against United States, only to be overwhelmed by a formidable display of offensive might from the Stars and Stripes. Since then, Les Bleues have swung between nervousness and bursts of attacking brilliance, as encapsulated by their semi-final loss to Japan.
“It was a semi-final, and the prize at stake made it hard for us to play with freedom,” said Le Sommer. “It wasn’t until we conceded a goal and found ourselves with our backs to the wall that we were finally able to break free.”
France were trailing Japan 2-0 when Le Sommer came off the bench shortly after the break. And she soon made a difference, adding a cutting edge to France's spell of dominance and halving the deficit with 15 minutes to play. “When you score a goal, it's obviously a good way to make an entrance,” she said, modestly playing down her contribution.
Les Bleues produced a barrage of attacks in a frenetic finale, with Elise Bussaglia even missing a penalty won by Le Sommer shortly after her goal. But despite the pressure, Japan’s defensive wall held firm. “It’s very disappointing, because we had plenty of chances to snatch a point or a victory against the Japanese,” lamented Le Sommer, the French league’s top scorer last season. “We now need to focus on the [bronze] medal, because we deserve it for our performances.”
Disappointment aside, Le Sommer feels France have the edge over their opponents for Thursday’s bronze medal face-off. “The last time we played against Canada was in the final of the Cyprus Women’s Cup, which we won 2-0,” she said. “We also beat them 4-0 at the last World Cup. They’re a team that fear the way we play, so we should be more confident against them and less intimidated than we were against the Japanese.”
Bruno Bini’s players should have the advantage of being fresher, both mentally and physically, than their Canadian counterparts. Indeed, Christine Sinclair and Co had to endure extra time against United States and felt the agony of a last-minute defeat, having led the match three times. However, John Herdman’s side also played with confidence throughout, and were more than a match for perhaps the most potent force in women’s football.
Le Sommer hopes the London 2012 experience will teach her side to relax on the big occasions. And she is determined to finish the tournament on a high by winning bronze. “We must be positive and remember what we were able to do in the second half, and replicate it for the entire match,” she said.