Europeans gear up for Group A decider

France’s Group A clash with hosts Germany in Monchengladbach this Tuesday looked set to be one of the most eagerly-anticipated matches of the first round. However, with both sides already through to the quarter-finals after winning their first two matches, the stakes are not quite as high as they might have been. Would it be fair, then, to say that there is nothing riding on this fixture? Well, not exactly.

Neither France nor Germany have put a foot wrong in the FIFA Women’s World Cup Germany 2011™ so far. Les Bleues hold a slight advantage thanks to their convincing 4-0 victory over Canada, and their superior goal difference means that a draw against the hosts will guarantee them top spot in Group A.

Race for first place France go into the match looking to build on the positive momentum they have created so far. A first-place finish would not only give them a major confidence boost heading into the knockout stages, but it would also allow them to avoid the strongest qualifier from Group B.

Anticipation for Tuesday’s first-round tie between France and Germany has been bubbling away for quite some time now. Nearly half of the French team play for Lyon, who recently beat German outfit Turbine Potsdam to win the UEFA Women’s Champion’s League. Potsdam are themselves a rich source of talent for the German national side, and it was the Brandenburg-based side who denied les Lyonnaises a first European title in the 2009/10 season. There is certainly no shortage of rivalry surrounding the fixture.

For his part, France coach Bruno Bini prefers to play down the relevance of the recent Champions League final. “There are only three Potsdam players in the German national side, and the match wasn’t exactly France-Germany either,” said Bini. “After the match, a real ‘yes we can’ attitude emerged. I spoke about it at length with my players. I believe a psychological barrier has been broken down.”

We’ve simply shown that we’re not here by chance, and that we’re a competitive side.

Even the most optimistic French fans would be hard-pressed to find positives in their team’s international record against Germany. France have beaten the world champions just once in nine meetings, with their only success to date a 1-0 friendly win. Apart from that one blip, the Germans have dominated the fixture and have inflicted some heavy defeats along the way, including a crushing 5-1 triumph in the first round of UEFA EURO 2009.

France’s goalscorer that day was Gaetane Thiney, who earned widespread praise for her recent performance against Canada in Group B. Despite her heroics, the Juvisy midfielder is determined to keep a cool head. “No matter how great the pressure surrounding this match, it won’t really get to us because we know our qualities,” she said.

“The other teams wouldn’t have bet a Euro on us 15 days ago, and we’re not suddenly going to become contenders just because we won 4-0 against Canada. We’ve simply shown that we’re not here by chance, and that we’re a competitive side,” added Thiney.

An historic fixture On the face of it, France have very little to lose against Germany. Les Tricolores are already through to the quarter-finals, and they are not under the same kind of pressure as the hosts and reigning champions. Thiney agrees, and says her team-mates should simply relax and enjoy the occasion.

“What we want above all is to enjoy every match and experience new emotions,” said the 25-year-old Troyes native. “It’s rare to play in full stadiums. That’s one of the great things about these competitions. We're trying to do our best in this wonderful environment.”

The France-Germany fixture evokes strong memories for fans of both sides. Thiney was not born when one of the most memorable matches took place, but her Juvisy team-mate Sandrine Soubeyrand still remembers it clearly.

“I can still see myself in front of my TV in 1982, watching the World Cup semi-final between France and Germany with Patrick Batiston on the stretcher,” said Soubeyrand, recalling Batiston’s collision with German goalkeeper Harald Schumacher. “It was a dramatic ending, but I like excitement. It’s also one of the reasons we take part in sport – to experience these emotions and share them with people.”

If Tuesday’s encounter can deliver even half as much excitement as that match in Seville back in 1982, then we are certainly all in for a real treat.