France has sent an ominous warning to its rivals in the first game of the 2019 Women’s World Cup, dispatching a hapless South Korean 4-0 in front of 45,261 fans packed into the Parc des Princes in Paris.
An opening strike from the talismanic Eugénie Le Sommer combined with a brace from defender Wendie Renard to put the game to bed in the opening 45 minutes in the wee hours of Saturday morning Australian time; the French juggernaut, never appearing challenged by the Taegeuk Nangja, not heading to the dressing rooms up 4-0 only thanks to the invention of the VAR
A combination of an easing off the pedal by the French and stiffening in resolve by the Koreans slowed down the tide of goals in the second half but the tournament favourites were never pushed in their first game of the tournament; a long-range thunderbolt from Amandine Henry sealing the result in the 85th minute.
For the French, their attention now turns to a meeting with fellow Europeans Norway on Thursday morning Australian time whilst, for the Koreans, thoughts will now turn to reversing their fortunes in a meeting with Nigeria on Wednesday evening Australian time; needing a solid performance to reverse their form and give themselves any chance of qualifying for the Round of 16.
The opening stages of the opening game to the World Cup bore all the hallmarks of a cat playing with a cornered mouse – or perhaps more accurately a killer whale playing with a hapless seal.
Opening a tournament played on home soil and amongst the favourites, the French monopolised possession right from the opening whistle; demonstrating a clear gulf in class between themselves and their opposition.
When they had the ball, they looked comfortable and incisive in their attempts to work the ball around and scythe through a lethal pass and on the rare occasions in which they lost it their fierce press quickly forced the Koreans into a turnover.
Henry flashed a shot wide for the French is just the second minute of the contest, before Lyon superstar Le Sommer had her first two chances of the tournament with a blocked effort on goal in the third minute and a shot that was saved by Korean keeper Kim Min-Jeong in the seventh.
The foreboding sense that a French breakthrough was near was, nonetheless, a palpable one; the obvious gulf in class between the hosts and their Korean opponents impossible to ignore.
In just the ninth minute of play, it came.
Stealing the ball from Kim Do-yeon in yet another example of the suffocating French press, Henry proceeded to turn to upfield and burst down the right flank, easily outpacing a retreating Do-yeon to the byline.
Reaching the zenith of her run Henry then cut the ball back to her Lyon teammate Le Sommer inside the area, who dutifully placed the ball into the back of the net to grab France the first lead of the 2019 World Cup and herself the fastest goal in the history of opening games at the tournament.
Chances to Kadidiatou Diani and Delphine Cascarino soon followed for Les Bleues, as the Koreans struggled to impose themselves in the contest in any meaningful way.
The French had the ball in the back for a second time in the game’s 27th minute, when a ball swung into the area by Delphine Cascarino was headed back across the face of goal by Renard and into the path of her defensive partner Griedge Mbock Bathy.
Her resulting volley beat Min-Jeong and sent herself, her teammates and the Parc des Princes into raptures as the Lyon defender wheeled away celebrating her fifth international goal but celebrations were quickly cut short by the ominous sight of Claudia Umpiérrez consulting with the VAR.
In a process that took far too long, replays showed that Mbock Bathy’s left foot had been, at the time of Renard’s header, an inch offside; handing the Koreans a reprieve as boos rang out from the fans that moments before had been celebrating.
The let-off for the Korean’s was not to last, however, as in the 35th minute the French did grab the second after a corner to the edge of the six-yard-box from Gaëtane Thiney was met with a bullet header into the back of the net by Renard to double the French advantage in a manner where VAR could have no say.
Chances for Thiney and Élise Bussaglia to triple the French lead followed before, on the stroke of halftime, it was Renard who once again had the ball in the back of the net after a corner; this one driven into the net after Amel Majri swung a ball in from the left.
Having monopolised possession 68 per cent to 32 per cent and outshot their Asian opponents 16 to zero, the domination of Head Coach Corinne Diacre’s side was clear; the Korean’s failing to touch the ball in their opponent’s half in the opening 45 minutes.
It was much more of the same in the second half for the French, Henry lashing an effort on target from outside the area in the 58th minute and forcing Min-Jeong into a save.
However, the South Koreans were nonetheless able to hold firm in the face of the French domination of both possession and territory, clamping down on the number of clear-cut chances the hosts were able to produce.
Never expected to actually take points off their opponents, the task of keeping the margin to three was a vital one for the Korean’s and their goal difference; with four of the best third-placed finishers from the group stages all set to progress to the knockout stages in France.
As well as stiffening at the back, the Korean’s finally had their first shot in anger of the contest in the 69th minute when newly introduced substitute Kang Chae-Rim found herself in a yard of space outside the penalty area of French goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi but blasted over the bar.
A mistake from Renard in the 77th minute then gifted the Taegeuk Nangja their best chance of the contest after the goalscorer inadvertently played a long ball into the path of Lee Mi-na.
Breaking through the French lines, the INAC Kobe Leonessa midfielder had a chance to shoot one-on-one with Bouhaddi but couldn’t get her right-footed effort on target, the ball sailing wide left of the target for a goal kick.
Some sweet combination play between Élise Bussaglia and Thiney threatened to punish Mi-na for her miss just sixty seconds later but much as she had done, Bussaglia was unable to get her effort from outside the area on target.
Henry, though, was able to get her shot on target and make it four with just five minutes remaining when, after laying the ball off to Le Sommer, she received the ball back from her Lyon teammate and blasted an effort into the net from outside the area to put a bow on proceedings.