France qualified for the semi-finals of Germany 2011 ten years ago today
Still the only time Les Bleues have reached the last four of a Women’s World Cup
Camille Abily takes a trip down memory lane with FIFA.com
When you have represented your country 183 times, as former France midfielder Camille Abily has done, you are bound to have countless memories to show for it. However, there is always one special, fond recollection that trumps the others. And for Abily, just as for a great many Bleues fans, that memory goes all the way back to 9 July 2011 in Germany.
On that particular day, Les Tricolores had an eagerly awaited showdown with England in Leverkusen in the quarter-finals of the FIFA Women's World Cup 2011™. For the French, it was uncharted territory, having never been that far in the tournament before. Their opponents, in contrast, had already graced the last-eight at the previous edition (China 2007), as well as at Sweden 1995, without reaching the semi-finals on either occasion. Nor would it be third time lucky for the English...
As fate would have it, France progressed to the semi-finals at the expense of the Three Lionnesses after an intense fixture that could have gone either way. Indeed, the only time Les Bleues were in front all evening was after converting the winning penalty in the shootout that finally separated the teams (1-1 aet; 4:3 PSO).
"I’ve often been asked what my best memory in the French team is, and my answer is always the same: it's that one, the quarter-final," Camille Abily tells FIFA.com. "First of all because it was historic. The French team had never reached the World Cup semis before. On top of that, it was my first World Cup, which makes it very memorable! And finally, because there was this emotional lift that made this fixture a little more exciting...”
Exciting it certainly was after England went in front on 59 minutes through a Jill Scott goal against the run of play. And as the minutes ticked by and chances came and went, a last-four place looked set to elude Les Bleues. Then with only two minutes left in normal time, Elise Bussaglia hit a sumptuous left-foot curler from 20 yards that went in off the upright.
"Psychologically that gave us the upper hand!" explains Abily. "They were leading, and some of their players may already have been envisioning the semi-finals. But thanks to that goal, we managed to take the match to extra time and carry some momentum. That said, extra time is always difficult – exhausting for the legs and not good for the nerves!”
The collective nerves were certainly put to the test that day with a penalty shootout required to separate the teams. Normally so accomplished from 12 yards, the Rennes native, who had been excellent all game, walked up to take the first French penalty and missed. "In reality, it was a good omen," says the player. "Every time I missed a penalty, we won the shootout! And when I scored in a shootout, we sometimes lost! So, when I rejoined my team-mates after missing, they told me, 'Don't worry! You missed, but that’s a good sign!'
"You can't blame a player for missing a penalty,” she adds. “It takes courage to step up! I've been involved in shootouts where you ask for volunteers and not a single hand goes up, so it’s complicated. But of course, I was very disappointed to miss. You always want to help your team by scoring, and no matter how much my team-mates reassured me, it's never good to miss the first spot kick! However, it all ended well, as we were strong enough to score [our other penalties] and qualify.”
As often happens, one bit of good news accompanies another, and that was the case following Germany’s loss to Japan in another quarter-final just hours later: "That result meant we’d also qualified for the London 2012 Olympics, so the day was doubly joyous. Obviously, we couldn’t celebrate all this, as we had a semi-final to prepare for, but I remember enjoying some really magical and convivial moments that evening with the other players and staff.”
Subsequent defeats to USA (3-1) in the semis then Sweden (2-1) in the match for third place ended the dreams of France, who could not match their run to the last four in the two subsequent editions. "We weren't expected to get that far [in 2011], so perhaps that made the difference. After that, France became one of the favourites for every competition, a tag we’ve struggled to come to terms with,” says Abily as our chat concludes. "Of course. there are regrets. There were some in 2011 and even more at the Olympics in 2012, but there were so many good memories too.”