France’s Dali picturing the scene

****Ask Kenza Dali to depict how late afternoon might look in Vancouver on 5 July this year when the FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015™ reaches its conclusion at the city’s BC Place Stadium, and the France midfielder would no doubt paint a scene awash with blue.

Having served notice of their rich promise in previous tournaments, the French are determined to convert it into silverware, as she explained in conversation with FIFA.com. “We know what our strengths are and our opponents are frightened of us," Dali said. "That’s down to the experience we’ve picked up and it gives us a lot of confidence,” the Paris Saint-Germain player said, just weeks ahead of what she is hoping will be her first outing on the biggest stage of all.

“The players who were at the last World Cup and the Olympic Tournament know what they need to do to go all the way, and they won’t be making the same mistakes again. That experience is going to be a big factor.”

France’s recent tournament record features two notable highs: their runs to the semi-finals at the Women’s World Cup Germany 2011 and the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament London 2012, which nevertheless ended with painful defeats to the USA and Canada respectively. Both those campaigns were masterminded by Bruno Bini, who has since handed over the reins to Philippe Bergeroo, whose task it is to take the French to the next level.

An education In pursuing that goal Bergeroo has blooded come exciting young players, among them Dali, bedding them down alongside more seasoned performers such as Wendie Renard, Laura Georges, Gaetane Thiney and Louisa Necib. “The first time I called Kenza up to the national team, she showed a lot of skill but I could also see she was very shy,” the coach told FIFA.com.

Sufficiently impressed to draft her into the side for two Canada 2015 qualifying matches in November 2013 when she was still only 22, Bergeroo added: “I told her that she shouldn’t feel at all out of place because I’d seen her play for Paris Saint-Germain. She’s made a lot of progress in that respect since then.”

The fast-learning Dali enjoyed a productive apprenticeship after joining Lyon as a callow teenager. Though she would make just one appearance with them before heading off to Rodez in search of more playing time, and she clearly learned a lot in her time with the French giants.

We know what our strengths are and our opponents are frightened of us.

“I was 16 and we had a team featuring some of the best players in the world,” she said, recalling her Lyon days. “It was very hard for a girl my age to break into the side and spend time on the pitch. My luckiest break, though, was being able to play in the top flight at such a young age.”

She added: “I didn’t have to make my debut at a small club with organisational problems. I started at the very top, with the best team in Europe. I’ve got where I am today because of my training at Lyon. That’s something you don’t forget.”

Top dogs for a long time, Dali’s former club are now being challenged by her current employers, a state of affairs reflected by the make-up of the France team. As well as featuring a posse of players from the two-time UEFA Women’s Champion League winners, who are currently on course for their ninth French title in a row, Bergeroo’s side also boasts a healthy contingent from PSG, who are aiming to break l’OL’s domestic domination, having knocked them out in the last 16 of this season’s Champions League.

“You don’t think about clubs when you’re playing for Les Bleues,” commented Dali. “You think about the France team and you don’t speak about the rivalry. You come here with the blue shirt and the same colours. Everyone agrees on that, which helps things go smoothly. We just don’t talk about it at all, not even to tease each other."

Making her way The Paris-born player is used to getting along with people who might not necessarily share her tastes or interests, as she explained: “My brothers are more into basketball, and my parents and my family in general are not sporty at all. Even so, they’ve never had a problem with me playing football. Anything but. They’ve always supported me."

Despite earning a distinction in her management science and technology baccalaureate and having a marketing degree under her belt, Dali has nevertheless decided to make her living from football. “I never came out and said that I wanted to be a professional footballer,” she explained. “I’ve always taken things step by step, and then one day I was offered a professional contract. Obviously, I couldn’t turn it down."

Neither could she refuse the invitation to play for her country: “I was born in France to Algerian parents, and they’re very proud to see me wear the France jersey.”

Her next objective is to earn a place at the World Cup, an achievement she would understandably be keen to share with her parents: “If I do make it, it would be so magical that I would like to experience it with them and have them travel over.” Crossing the ocean to see a Dali on display would be a trip well worth making.