Over the past few years, the French women’s national team have come close to triumphing at major tournaments, but have invariably returned home empty-handed.
The FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015™ offers Les Bleues the opportunity to remedy that situation. Boasting significant skill, tactical nous and, perhaps most importantly, excellent team spirit, they appear to have a strong chance of surpassing the achievements of their predecessors.
Wendie Renard, captain of the side, is well-placed to analyse squad harmony and mood. “Since coming into the international set-up four years ago, the atmosphere in the group has always been brilliant. I don’t know if it’s as good as it gets, but it certainly can’t be far off it,” she told *FIFA.com *with a smile.
“We make fun of each other a lot. There are certain players who love to joke around and liven things up.”
And if voices have to be raised? “The older heads take care of that,” explained the Lyon defender. “I can also gently bring players back in line if need be, especially before matches, when we need to focus quickly. It’s good to have a laugh, but we need to adopt a serious approach if necessary, and the players completely understand that.”
Of course, when players are accustomed to training with each other on a daily basis, a greater collective understanding can develop. Renard travelled to Canada with nine club team-mates, while seven Paris Saint-Germain employees, including Kenza Dali, also made the trip.
But the rivalry between the two biggest outfits in the Division 1 Feminine has seemingly never encroached into the international environment. “We don’t think about our clubs when we’re representing France,” said Dali. “We don’t discuss it, even when we're teasing each other.”
The factors touched on by Renard and Dali have been abundantly clear during France’s recent performances. From their impressive qualifying campaign for Canada 2015 to their run to the final of the prestigious Algarve Cup, the team – and Renard herself – has continually demonstrated a useful blend of concentration and camaraderie.
“I’m quite reserved generally, but I also know how to have a laugh when I need to,” said the 24-year-old Martinique native, who has over 60 caps under her belt. “The key is to pick the right moment. As captain, I try to convey that idea to the rest of the squad.”
Renard had no need to make herself heard prior to leading her team-mates out to face England in their opening Women’s World Cup match in Moncton. Despite enduring a difficult start against tenacious opponents and in punishing weather conditions, France’s team spirit came to the fore, paving the way for a 1-0 victory that could prove decisive in the group.
“We were a bit tense at the beginning of the match, but that was to be expected,” said French attacker Gaetane Thiney, who set up Eugenie Le Sommer for the only goal of the match. “We’ll need to keep our feet on the ground for the rest of the group stage, remaining calm and focused at the same time.”
On Saturday, Les Bleues will lock horns with Colombia as they attempt to ensure themselves of top spot in Group F. Amandine Henry, who started the opening game in midfield, was quick to stress the importance of collective effort in the upcoming encounter.
“Beating the English gave us a real sense of relief. Colombia will make it hard for us from start to finish, but it’s up to us to apply ourselves as a team so that we can savour that winning feeling again,” she said.
With a serious approach in the run-up to matches and an ability to enjoy themselves once the result is acquired, France appear to have found the perfect balance in their quest for Women’s World Cup glory.