"We were very pleased to finish fourth at the World Cup," France striker Marie-Laure Delie told *FIFA.com *just three months ahead of the UEFA Women's EURO Sweden 2013, which runs from 10 to 28 July.
"We thought we had turned a corner," she said. "But when we did the same thing again at the Olympics (losing in the semi-finals), it really put us down in the dumps. Missing out on a bronze medal in that manner made it particularly disappointing for us. But we must draw on all of that to make ourselves even more fired-up for the EURO. This time, we're going there to win the title."
For Delie, France's defeat by Sweden in the match for third place at the FIFA Women’s World Cup Germany 2011™, and their loss to Japan in the bronze medal match at London 2012, are now ancient history. Indeed, she and the rest of Bruno Bini's Bleues are gearing up for their third major competition in as many years, and are hoping to finally deliver on their undoubted promise.
"This group has been together for three or four years now, and defeats are all part of the learning process," said the Montpellier striker, who believes France have come a long way since reaching the quarter-finals of the UEFA Women's Euro in 2009. "There are steps you have to take. Before the World Cup, nobody used to talk about us. We've made a lot of progress, and all national teams now fear us. We have to focus on the positive side of our development and use that to move forward."
France produced a flawless qualifying campaign for EURO 2013, taking the maximum 24 points from their group at an average of four goals per game, and conceding only twice. They join Germany and Sweden as the top seeds among the qualified teams, and will start as one of the favourites to go all the way. First, however, they must navigate a tough-looking Group C that pits them against Russia, Spain and England.
Before the World Cup, nobody used to talk about us. We've made a lot of progress, and all national teams now fear us.
"We beat Russia 3-0 last year, but they're a really strong team with some very tall players," said Delie. "I watched Spain against Germany. They're a great team: good on the ball and physically impressive. As for England, we know them well and they're capable of anything. We can't take any of the games lightly if we want to go through as group winners."
The 2012 Cyprus Women's Cup is, so far, the only trophy on France's honours list. Les Bleues' EURO 2013 warm-up schedule, however, suggests they are serious about adding another title, with Bini's side having already faced England, the Netherlands, Germany, Brazil and Canada in their build-up.
"When we reach the semi-finals [of major tournaments], we can't seem to beat the big teams," said Delie. "I think it's with a view to changing that fact that Bruno Bini has chosen tougher teams as our warm-up opponents. It can only help prepare us for what lies ahead at the EURO, where the overall level will be even higher than at the World Cup and the Olympics."
The problem for France is that all seven of their pre-tournament friendlies to date have ended in draws, with their lack of cutting edge continuing to prevent them from closing out games. "The whole group has a problem when it comes to converting chances," said Delie. "If you look back at all the games we've lost despite creating numerous chances, you can see that it's a recurring issue.
"We'll stay confident, though, because we know we have the quality to score, and to beat any team. Luck is another factor that comes into it, but I think something will soon click and allow us to fix this flaw."
Strikers tend to draw the most scrutiny when goals are in limited supply, but Delie is one whose contribution should put her beyond reproach. Indeed, with 43 international goals, the 25-year-old is France's second-highest scorer of all time. And although she is still some way off Marinette Pichon's record of 81, she does boast a superior goals per game ratio of 0.77 to Pichon's 0.72, with plenty of time to improve yet further.
"I try to score in every match," said Delie. "But if I can contribute without scoring and it helps the team win, then I'm happy with that. I always try to give the best I can. If it produces goals then that's great, but for me it's first and foremost about the team, and I'm not obsessed with beating the record.
"Given the choice, I would have taken scoring against Canada and winning the bronze medal [over beating the scoring record]," she added with a smile, as the conversation concluded. "I need to be more consistent and play better in the big games. It'll come, I think, starting at the EURO."