Henry: Women's football stereotypes are in the past
FIFA Women's World Cup France 2019™ began one year ago today
Les Bleues defeated Korea Republic 4-0 in the opening game
France captain Amandine Henry looks back on the hugely successful event
On 7 June 2019 France and the watching world embarked on a month-long extravaganza of women's football. Full stadiums, record attendances, well-matched teams... all the requisite ingredients were there to produce a magnificent competition.
And while USA would eventually defend their title and become world champions for the fourth time, the honour of opening the tournament fell to hosts France and Group A opponents Korea Republic. For Les Bleues, that first match would be an unforgettable moment, thanks to a resounding 4-0 victory in front of an ecstatic Parc des Princes crowd.
In an exclusive interview with FIFA.com, Bleues captain Amandine Henry shares her memories of the competition on home soil and discusses the evolution of women's football over the past year.
Amandine, when you think of 7 June 2019, what images spring to mind?
FIFA.com: The Marseillaise at the Parc des Princes. At that moment, you look back a bit on your career as it’s the ultimate dream to sing your national anthem during the opening game of a World Cup on home soil. You think about what you went through when you were younger. It was the opening game, so there were a lot of emotions and huge expectations. Although we’d prepared for every possible scenario, it was completely different to experience it on the big day. It was the perfect match: a full stadium, the result, the way we achieved it. I said to myself, "We're off to a good start."
You scored with a magnificent long-range strike in the 85th minute. What did you feel at the time?
A sea of emotions. As I said, we’d played the perfect match and I was able to make a little personal contribution in front of my whole family. That goal will be one of those that stay with me forever. It’s not the most important one I’ve scored, but it had a special flavour.
For this match, and for the competition as a whole, was being captain more a source of pressure or motivation?
A little bit of both. There was a positive pressure because you want to take the team as far as possible. Inevitably, that brings with it many responsibilities. You have to think about yourself but at the same time the team. But I wasn't alone as I had the other veterans by my side.
The match against Brazil was very intense with you grabbing the winner in extra time. What do you recall about that game?
We felt the pressure building steadily when we couldn't score. It was hot, it was our fourth game, and there were a lot of tired legs. The crowd were cheering us on so we knew we couldn’t let up. When I scored, I was both relieved and exhausted. And at the same time, I was afraid because it was the first time we’d played a competition with VAR. I wondered if perhaps I’d been offside and if the goal would stand. I couldn’t envisage being back on level terms.
Then came the USA clash, which many felt was fitting of a final. Did you see it like that?
It was the dream fixture anyway. But there were other teams in the mix, like England and the Netherlands, who were also tough and formidable.
What was it like to miss out on the semi-finals and the chance to go to Lyon, where you play your club football?
It was truly heart-breaking. We’d been waiting almost two years and had planned for every possible scenario. Looking back at that USA game, there are a lot of regrets! It took a long time to come to terms with this defeat and elimination. Not being able to go to Lyon hurt. It would have been like going to "our home", as most of the girls play for Lyon. If we’d managed to play there, I think we’d have made it to the final. It was the biggest disappointment of our careers.
In hindsight, what were France lacking in that game?
We were second best in the first quarter of an hour. The USA are a team that go all out in the opening minutes of each half, and we were caught out by that. It was clearly a lack of maturity against this experienced team.
Do you think that USA side was the best team we’ve ever seen?
Yes. They’ve won the World Cup several times and been among the top teams at the Olympics too. They’re always there or thereabouts. Even though they don't play the most beautiful football, they always win!
One year on, do you think the Women's World Cup has had a positive impact on women's football?
It’s had a huge impact and not just on women's football, but more generally on women in sport in France. We’re getting more recognition both literally and metaphorically. At the grassroots level there are many more registered players, while at national team level, we’re filling stadiums wherever we go. It's nice, but we still have work to do, especially with regard to the French championship, even if there has been progress.
Did you really imagine that, for an entire month, women's football would take centre stage in France?
Deep down we were hoping for that without necessarily believing it would happen. In the league, we had a hard time filling the stadiums so we were afraid the World Cup might be the same. When we saw our match attendance numbers, we realised that something had happened. Now it would be nice if we had a slightly more uniform championship, and for women's football to also become a priority for some clubs. It will happen over time. I think sometimes you need closer links with the men's game, and to have similar levels of publicity and media coverage, but that will be a gradual process.
You made your debut with the national team 11 years ago. Did you ever think back then that women's football would evolve the way it has?
Not at all. It seemed a long way off. I remember my first game, against Switzerland, on a small pitch with few supporters. But for me it was the French team and I already had stars in my eyes. But from there to playing in front of a packed Parc des Princes is not something I could have ever envisaged!
If this evolution of women’s football is exponential, what can we expect over the next few years?
How can we improve on this World Cup? For our part, it would be to lift the World Cup and continue to fill stadiums like we did last summer. I hope that women's football will become global as there are no longer any taboos surrounding it. The stereotype that "boys should play football and girls do gymnastics" is in the past. Now the norms have changed, and anything is possible.