Players to watch:FRA : Pichon_Marinette
Pichon's goals vital for France
France will be playing in their first major international tournament at the FIFA Women's World Cup USA 2003, and Marinette Pichon is expected to be the driving force for the debutantes if they have any chance of escaping from the group stage. A tall task for the diminutive striker, but she and her goals have carried "Les Bleues" this far.
The quicksilver markswoman shot to prominence last year, when she scored 14 goals in 18 matches and led the Philadelphia Charge to the semi-final of the Founders Cup. For her considerable efforts, she was named the WUSA Most Valuable Player.
It was a remarkable performance considering she was just settling into a new country.
"I'm very happy here. The other players have helped me a lot with my English, and I am staying with a very nice family," she says. "The WUSA is a great idea because it brings together more world-class players than ever before. Every day you practice and every day you have a chance to get better. To play against great players like this, it just makes me want to work harder."
After first kicking a football at the age of five, Pichon played for a series of boys' teams until her teenage years, when she was told to wear a waistcoat in school games to protect her upper body. Her ambition and determination saw her through, and the 1.60-metre tall forward won a place in her home town side OL Saint Memmie, a few hours drive north of Paris.
She went on to finish leading scorer in the French League on four occasions and currently has more than 150 career goals to her name. She made her debut for the French Women's National Team in 1994 at the age of 19, and as she does everywhere else, she has scored goals for her country, more than 40 in 50 appearances.
"Scoring is always exciting," says Pichon, who really should know. "It gives so much pleasure to everyone, my team-mates, people who come to watch. How many things can you say that about?"
All evidence to the contrary, Pichon plays down her role in France's dramatic progress over the past few years.
"Everybody on a team is important," she says. "All eleven players have a job, and I just try to do mine, which is to score goals. But, every job is important, not just me because I score. If everybody does their job, then we will be fine."
Pichon and 'Les Bleues' secured a first-ever place at the FIFA Women's World Cup finals in a dramatic two-legged play-off against England in autumn 2002. In the first leg, away at Selhurst Park in London, Pichon stunned the home supporters with a 75th minute goal. The side completed their qualification with another 1-0 victory at home in front of 23,000 spectators.
"It's really exciting for all of us to be going to the USA," says the woman who is based outside of Philadelphia. "But we'll be concentrating on our work and just getting on with training very hard."