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USA-France, the encore
by Paul Kennedy, July 24th, 2012 1:18AM

TAGS:  france, olympics, women's national team, women's world cup


[OLYMPIC COUNTDOWN] The United States and France will open play at the Olympic women's soccer competition Wednesday when they meet at storied Hampden Stadium in Glasgow (TV: NBCSN, live, noon ET). The Bleues, winners of 17 straight games, will out for revenge for their 3-1 loss to the United States in the semifinals of the 2011 Women's World Cup, a match they dominated for long stretches. But they have already won one important battle, endearing themselves to the French public.

With stars like WPS veterans Camille Abily and Sonia Bompastor and playmaker Louisa Necib, France has developed into one of the most attractive women's teams ever assembled.

The USA-France match, Act 1 is considered a turning point in French women's soccer as the game drew a record television audience of 2.4 million.

You could say the French women's national team is everything the much-maligned men's national team is not.

"They make themselves available off the field, salute their fans and show strong team spirit and good values," said Thierry Cheleman, the head of Direct 8, the network that has the rights to the women's national team.

The Paris magazine France Football is devoting 12 pages to its women's preview -- compared to only two for men -- an enormous total considering in the indifference the French sporting press had in the past about women's soccer.

Since losing the third-place game to Sweden at the 2011 Women's World Cup, the French have been on a roll. They won the 2012 Cyprus Cup in March and have run off 17 straight wins, including 6-0, 3-0 and 2-0 wins -- the latter over world champion Japan -- in the last three weeks.

Necib says she and her teammates have improved since their meeting last summer but they no longer have the surprise element they did in Germany a year ago.

"But that doesn't worry me," she added. "We're used to that with her club."

The nucleus of the Bleues are again formed by Lyon, winner of back-to-back UEFA Women's Champions League titles.

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