France arrived at Euro 2022 among the favourites to lift the trophy at Wembley on July 31 and did their chances little harm with an emphatic 5-1 win over Italy to kick off their tournament in style.
The team have come to England with a hugely talented squad of mostly domestic-based players, a number of whom are from Champions League winners Lyon and semi-finalists Paris Saint-Germain.
However, despite their obvious strengths, the road to the Euros hasn’t exactly been a smooth one with debates raging over manager Corinne Diacre and her selections, crucially the omission of former captain Amandine Henry and all-time top scorer Eugenie Le Sommer.
Geyoro scores first-half hat-trick as France hit five past lacklustre Italy
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Friction between the players and manager stem from their quarter-final disappointment– remarkably a fifth last-eight tournament exit in a row – at the 2019 World Cup, where, on home soil, they were expected to do far better.
Questions were asked about Diacre’s communication style but the 47-year-old hopes to put such issues aside and finally lead the side to glory.
Eurosport France’s Cyril Morin watched that win over Italy and gives us the lowdown on the current state of the squad.
‘One of the best performances in France’s history’
France blitzed Italy with a ferocious first half performance with PSG midfielder Grace Geyoro scoring a hat-tick and clubmate Marie-Antoinette Katoto and Lyon’s Delphine Cascarino also on the scoresheet before the break.
With the game won, France eased off in the second half and Martina Piemonte’s late consolation did little to take the shine of a rip-roaring display.
“Les Bleues managed to play an incredible first half with so much variety and fluidity,” Morin said.
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“Diacre said the players ‘felt a synergy’ and we can agree on that. It was one of France’s best performances in its history at big competitions.
“‘If someone would have told me before the game that we would go back to the locker room at 5-0 at half-time, I wouldn’t have believed it,’ Diacre also said, claiming from the bench, it was ‘amazing’.
“Kenza Dali, one of the substitutes, added: ‘Every time we were near the goal, we managed to score. You have some nights like that…I had never experienced such a game.’”
‘A lot has changed since 2019’
But does the nature of the win vindicate Diacre’s squad selection decisions, including leaving out Henry?
“Not yet,” Morin warned. “It’s a very good first step in the competition but the 5-1 will be totally forgotten if France fail again to go the final, which is the objective of the group.
“But these topics aren’t very discussed now. It’s a new story, a new group. If they fail, Diacre’s management will, of course, be under the spotlight for the wrong reasons.
“But if they manage to go to the final, I’m not sure the debate will occur.”
In 2019, there was a great deal of pre-tournament optimism that the team would win their first ever World Cup and after maximum points in their group and a last-16 win over Brazil, that belief looked justified.
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However, a 2-1 defeat to the USA brought everyone right back down to earth and the fallout saw captain Henry publicly speak out against her manager, revealing issues within the camp.
Diacre stood her ground and has made what looked to be unpopular decisions to drop certain players irrespective of their reputations.
“In 2019, the team was very experienced,” explained Morin, “with lots of players that were in the team before Diacre.
“From 2017 to 2019, Diacre was very clumsy in her communication on and off the record. The group didn’t really fit with her management style.
“Then came the public bombshell – after many months of very bad relations, the captain Henry came out on French TV with some very powerful quotes:
“‘I had a talk with the coach because I didn’t feel that good during the World Cup. In sports terms but also human. I saw players crying in their bedroom because of her. Me too, I cried. It was total chaos,’ Henry told Canal+ in November 2020. Her speech was even more powerful because she was the captain.
“But Noël Le Graet, the FFF boss, wasn’t moved so Diacre stayed as coach. She managed to adapt her communication, less rough maybe with the players but also with the press, and she managed to create a new atmosphere with a new group.
“Only 12 players here now were there in 2019 and they weren’t all starters. A lot has changed.”
‘The atmosphere is good’
Henry’s absence, as well as that of Le Sommer, means a reduced contingent of Lyon players in the squad. In the past, Morin says “it was OL’s players and the others” but “now, it’s a little more balanced”.
“That the main thing with Diacre’s squad, you have PSG and OL (five players each) but a very diverse selection with players coming from other French clubs or from abroad (Italy, England, Spain).
The wider pool of players, Morin believes, should quell concerns about factions and in-fighting.
“I don’t think we should worry about it as the atmosphere is good between the players.”
Another major incident that rocked the squad was the shocking assault on Kheira Hamraoui late last year, after which PSG and France teammate Aminata Diallo was initially implicated.
Diallo was released without charge by police but the episode was another dark cloud for French football.
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Neither player was selected for the final squad but what impact, if any, did it have on the team in the build up to the tournament?
“It had more impact on PSG than on France to be honest,” said Morin. “Hamraoui came back by surprise with les Bleues at the beginning of 2022 but her [difficult] relationship with other players of PSG was a big limit to her presence.”
Ultimately, it meant Diacre opted to leave Hamraoui at home: “All PSG players selected are very important to Diacre – [Sakina] Karchaoui, Geyoro, [Kadidiatou] Diani, Katoto are starters with [Sandy] Baltimore as a supersub.”
The win over Italy suggests that the manager has got things right so far and the result could now be a springboard to great success in the coming weeks.
Marin says: “Italy was supposed to be the big threat of this group but they managed to demolish them in a way that brings hope, of course.
“For the players, everybody was in the rhythm. Honestly, they left a very good impression.”
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