Commentary

Five reasons I'm rooting for France

By Paul Kennedy
(@pkedit)

France plays Germany Friday afternoon in the must-watch match of the Women's Women's World Cup. Most consider them the two best teams of the tournament, but FIFA in its eternal wisdom placed them on the same side of the bracket in the quarterfinals. I'll let you in on my little secret: I'll be cheering for the Bleues.

5. A victory will reward the French establishment for getting behind women's soccer.

In most parts of Europe, women's soccer is still considered an afterthought, but in France, where the sport was viewed indifferently until 15 years or so ago, the establishment stepped up, beginning with Aime Jacquet, who coached France to the 1998 World Cup and later became the technical director of the French federation. "The woman is the future of soccer," he said in 2001.

From then to now took a huge investment, not just money but a change in mindset. And it began at the grassroots level where coaches and administrators were needed -- they still are -- to develop girls programs. At the national level, a girls school was opened at the federation headquarters in Clairefontaine, like the famous boys school that produced the likes of Thierry Henry.

At the club level, Jean-Michel Aulas and Nasser Al-Khelaifi, the presidents of Lyon and Paris St. Germain, respectively, introduced pro contracts at their clubs, making their players among the best paid in the world. Seventeen of the 23 players on France's World Cup squad come from Lyon or PSG. More players at the Women's World Cup play for Lyon (14) and PSG (12) than any other club in the world as they've also attracted some of the best foreign talent in the world. American Lindsey Horan became the first American to skip college when she signed with PSG three years ago.

4. The Bleues represent all of France.

France's 1998 World Cup championship team was the "black-blanc-beur," a symbol of the changing France that had become a nation of color. The success of the Bleues of 2015 is being able to draw players from many of the same communities.

While the USA is still largely a white team from the suburbs, the Bleues draw players from many of the country's immigrant communities, most famously Louisa Necib, dubbed the Zinedine Zidane of the French women's soccer. Like Zidane, she was born to Algerian parents and raised in the immigrant section of Marseilles north of the city.

Goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi, right back Jessica Houara and Necib are among six French players of North African background. Forward Marie-Laure Delie's parents are from Ivory Coast, captain Wendie Renard grew up in Martinique, and Laura Georges and Elodie Thomis are the daughters of parents from the French Caribbean. Griedge Mbock Bathy, considered the next great Bleues defender, has roots in Cameroon.

3. The French are fun to watch.

At their best, the Bleues are the most exciting team at the Women's World Cup. They combine all the qualities of the great French men's teams: individual skill, intricate passing, speed and strength.

The Bleues' first two goals in the round of 16 -- it took all of eight minutes for France to go 2-0 up on South Korea -- showcased all their talents. On the first goal, Eugenie Le Sommer plays a one-two with Necib into the left corner and cuts the ball back for the open Delie to score. On the second, Houara makes a run down the right side, draws a defender with her as she lays the ball off to Thomis, who cuts in from the right, plays a one-two with Amandine Henry and scores.

Magnifique!

2. No one likes anything better than a good underdog.

France-Germany is one of soccer's great rivalries, but the Germans always seem to win.

On the men's side, Germany won the epic 1982 World Cup semifinal on penalty kicks, it won again four years later in the semifinals in Mexico and beat France last year in the World Cup quarterfinals. On the women's side, the Germans have won all three official matches, 3-1 and 5-0 at the European Championship and 4-2 at the 2011 Women's World Cup.

Our friends at ESPNW voted overwhelmingly for Germany to beat France: 10-2 in a poll of its experts. Even Noel Le Graet, president of the French federation, tried to soften the blow of a possible defeat, saying at a press conference on Thursday that a loss to Germany wouldn't be a setback for French women's soccer.

1. You've got to support someone.

I get this question all the time. Who do you support? These days, thanks to cable, streaming and the Internet, it's as easy to adopt a team in your hometown as it is a team thousands of miles away.

None of that was possible when I was growing up. The first international match I ever attended was at the Parc des Princes in Paris in April 1976. I had just arrived there to start work as an intern at an auto manufacturing company. By then, I was already struck with the soccer bug. The French league season was wrapping up, but France was playing the Soviet Union in an under-23 match. My American roommate thought I was crazy going to a soccer game a couple of days after my arrival to watch my adopted team. I didn't bother trying to explain to him I was going to something called an under-23 game.

I don't remember much about the game -- though many of the players went on to form the great French teams of the next decade -- but I remember afterward a magazine distributor dumped on the sidewalk piles of old copies of "Football Magazine," a short-lived almanac-style monthly published by the editors of France Football. I grabbed a dozen copies, hopped on the Metro and headed back to my apartment. I was in heaven.

Allez les Bleues!

29 comments about "Five reasons I'm rooting for France".
  1. Santiago 1314, June 26, 2015 at 7:38 a.m.

    The French Look the most Skillful Team of All… If anyone can beat Germany, on Skill, I think it will be France… and I will tell you why in ONE Word…CLAIRFONTAINE …

  2. Santiago 1314, June 26, 2015 at 7:38 a.m.

    Huh ??? you say, the French don’t have any players named Clair Fontaine…Nope, Clairfontaine is the site of the French National Team Training Center, In the Beautiful Rolling Forest, Southwest of Paris…Google Map it(Satellite)…Picturesque isn’t it…Here the French Federation has taken a 4 story, Centuries old Château and turned it into a Residency Training Center… You will see from Google Satellite, that there are NUMEROUS Immaculately Manicured Grass Soccer Fields surrounding the Château… Off to the South, Out in the Trees, You will see what looks like a Parking Lot in the Tree Tops…From our Room in the Château, we went down the Carpeted Spiral Staircase, to the Spotless Locker Room in the Basement, and then out a Hallway to the Main Field, Which is Cut into a Box Canyon(Oh, and there is a MARBLE 2 story Water Fall-Fountain, Behind the Goal, on the enclosed North endzone..NOT Kidding !!!)(There is a Picture on Wikipedia, if you don’t believe me)…To the South end of STADE PLATINI (Yup, the Main Training Field is named after him)…As you approach the Parking Lot in the Trees, you see that it is actually Hovering above the Tree Tops, like something out of that Star Wars Scene of the Rebel Ships landing on the Jungle Moon…Over the River and Thru the Woods to the Hanger…Under the Hanger,???... a HUGH Space….ASTROTURF !!!...

  3. Santiago 1314, June 26, 2015 at 7:38 a.m.

    http://efaubusson.footeo.com/galeries-photo/clairefontaine/221711

  4. Santiago 1314, June 26, 2015 at 7:39 a.m.

    The French Team have probably been in Residence there and getting adjusted to the TURF... No struggling with Bouncing UP or AWAY balls on their First Touch…No KICK BALL Out of Bounds...Oh, and the Carpet in the Château, had the French FFF Le Coq Symbol woven into it…SWEET !!! So, for the sake of "The Beautiful Game", I want to see France win, otherwise we will end up with teams full of East German TESTOSteroid Robots that play UGLY FUTBOL...

  5. Santiago 1314, June 26, 2015 at 7:39 a.m.

    So, For what the French are Trying to do,(What the USA should have been trying to do) I say 3-2 for France over Germany... Hey, What guy Doesn't dream of a Beautiful Exciting French Mistress...But I still Love the Boring USA...

  6. Santiago 1314, June 26, 2015 at 9:36 a.m.

    Very Good article Paul.. Spot On !!!

  7. Don Hughes, June 26, 2015 at 11:04 a.m.

    Well, you see, the point is to get the ball in the back of the net. I think even the German keeper wants to score. The mentality is, we are coming at you, stop us if you can.

    I don't think they can. But yes, the French do play lovely soccer and this is THE match of the Cup.

  8. c abraham, June 26, 2015 at 11:07 a.m.

    I agree Paul and pleasantly surprised to see someone with Soccer America expressing this sentiment. I would like to see the women's game played faster and be a little more dynamic similar to the best in the men's game right now; and for America to take advantage of it's diversity. A Blues victory over Germany would push the game more in this direction. The Blues are so incredibly fun to watch. I showed the France v. South Korea game to my 15 year old daughter. She often complains about how slow the women's game is and that she doesn't like watching it. We were only a few minutes into the game before she started to wonder if there was any way she could be French. Currently, youth soccer in America, particularly girls soccer, relies too heavily on the old English system and pay to play in my opinion. Although the English clubs have been changing their style of play in recent years, it's clear they are behind. The English Premier League hasn't faired well in European play. As for pay to play and more importantly skills train, it's set up this way for many reasons. Key among them is that America almost always embraces the more capitalist models. There are benefits and burdens to such a system. We should also recognize that for some parents in America, a French style system of investing in young girls with diverse backgrounds is viewed as a threat to their more affluent daughters achieving their soccer dreams and benefiting from the many scholarship opportunities available to players. Despite the potential long term benefits, in my view, of a Blues victory over Germany today, I don't think it will happen. I don't think the Blues are sufficiently organized or stern enough defensively to hold up for 90 minutes against Germany, or the US team for that matter. But, we can root for the Blues' success against Germany. As for a possible showdown with the USWNT. I still have to root for America. :-)

  9. Tom Symonds, June 26, 2015 at 11:54 a.m.

    Regarding reason #5, don't you think the German establishment supports women's soccer? The Frauen Bundesliga is one of the best women's leagues, if not the best, in the world. I don't understand the relevance of reason #4. Don't you think the German team represents all of Germany? I noticed in your explanation you didn't compare the French to the German squad but rather to a US suburbia-based team although your original argument seemed to me to be why you wanted France over Germany. But as long as you're tossing ethnicity bombs into the selection of a national squad for a World Cup you should at least acknowledge Germany's striker Celia Šašić -- born Okoyino da Mbabi (Cameroonian & French) and now married to a Croat; or the Kosovar Lira Alushi (nee Bajmaraj) whose current pregnancy has kept her out of this World Cup. Reason #3...aren't the Germans fun to watch, too? Great technical skill, lethal finishing, and just enough uncertainty at the back to keep the thrill alive. Reason #2 -- well, you've got me there; Germany are not underdogs. And reason #1 -- I want Germany to make history and own both the men's and women's World Cup titles concurrently.

  10. Mike Whalen, June 26, 2015 at 12:31 p.m.

    The French are so fun to watch but I think the Germans are a better match-up for the US.

  11. Santiago 1314, June 26, 2015 at 2:37 p.m.

    Fun to watch indeed. .. But, Will it be enough??? A Japan v France Final should be a Joy to watch, But Odds favor Germany v Canada

  12. Santiago 1314, June 26, 2015 at 4:21 p.m.

    German Center backs are playing too wide apart when they get the Ball...Pushing wide Defenders way too High and Wide,.. Gonna give away a Counter to France on a Steal in center of Mid Field..

  13. Santiago 1314, June 26, 2015 at 4:22 p.m.

    #9 Germany Should already have Red Card..Yellow minimum

  14. Santiago 1314, June 26, 2015 at 4:26 p.m.

    France is Dominating and Controlling.. They are smart to let Germany build through #5 Defender... she is Terrible

  15. Santiago 1314, June 26, 2015 at 4:34 p.m.

    France starting to look Tired after 30 minutes... Pace is too Fast for them. .. got to slow game down

  16. Santiago 1314, June 26, 2015 at 4:52 p.m.

    0-0 at Half. .. a few more precise crosses from the Right Winger of France, and score could be 3-0

  17. c abraham, June 26, 2015 at 4:57 p.m.

    Very exciting game. I'm surprised. France has totally dominated. Won't matter though if they can't get an early goal in second half. They will tire and the game will turn in Germany's favor. It's seems that this game will come down to set pieces and Germany is the more likely of the 2 teams to capitalize there.

  18. Santiago 1314, June 26, 2015 at 5:02 p.m.

    @Chris,... You are so right. .. so many times the Well to do Parents in the clubs I coached, wouldn't "subsidize" poor Urban kids... cause it would cut into their kids playing time. .. Hard Choice when yoUr going the Bill. .. need to get Pro Academies for the Inner City type kids. .starting to happen on Men's side. .. might never happen on Women's side

  19. Santiago 1314, June 26, 2015 at 5:06 p.m.

    @Tom,... I Think Soccer History will not be well served with Flavorless Automoton German Soccer...

  20. Santiago 1314, June 26, 2015 at 5:21 p.m.

    Yes...Yes..Oui. !!! Not the Typical way I would have expected France to Score, but I'll take it. .

  21. Santiago 1314, June 26, 2015 at 5:33 p.m.

    75th.. Germany starting to look "Out of Sorts"... Panic starting to set in...Yelling at Ref

  22. Santiago 1314, June 26, 2015 at 5:44 p.m.

    MERD!!!! NO !!! Come On Ref... Ball came up to Arm that was Back.. No Intent.. It was a Cross to the Top of the 18... Not even Headed to Goal..

  23. Santiago 1314, June 26, 2015 at 5:45 p.m.

    Good for USA, If they go to Overtime...

  24. Santiago 1314, June 26, 2015 at 6:04 p.m.

    Overtime...100th minute... both teams look Gassed

  25. Santiago 1314, June 26, 2015 at 6:13 p.m.

    Keep Running yourself into the ground you two teams

  26. Santiago 1314, June 26, 2015 at 6:17 p.m.

    Bodies Flying Everywhere...Blood on the Field...Shirtless Women..OMG!!! WHAT A GAME!!!

  27. Santiago 1314, June 26, 2015 at 6:25 p.m.

    Freakin France.. Cross Over Back Heel in the Midfield in 118th.. Got to Love It .!!!

  28. Santiago 1314, June 26, 2015 at 6:42 p.m.

    For not finishing chances in the regulation.... Bummer.... Good game though

  29. Santiago 1314, June 26, 2015 at 10:01 p.m.

    @Don,... You were Correct, It's about putting the Ball in the Back of the Net..

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