Rio Olympics: USA-France, women's battle of giants

The USA will face its toughest test of the group stage in the Olympic women's soccer competition when it plays France on Saturday in Belo Horizonte.

The Bleues, who opened the group play with a 4-0 win over Colombia, handed the USA one of its three defeats in 56 games since Jill Ellis was named head coach in 2014. The USA's 2-0 loss in Lorient 17 months ago is the only defeat by more than one goal. The Olympics could be the last hurrah for France's current generation of stars.

1. Medal or else in Rio?

France has emerged as one of the USA's great rivals, losing in the semifinals of the 2011 Women's World Cup and group stage at the 2012 London Olympics. The USA avoided the Bleues a year ago at the Women's World Cup in Canada when they lost in a shootout to Germany in the quarterfinals after dominating the game.

That's been the story of the Bleues for years. In the 2011 World Cup semifinals in Moenchengladbach, France outshot the USA, 27-11, but fell, 3-1, on a pair of late goals by Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan. A year later in their opening game of the London Olympics, France led 2-0 after 14 minutes but later collapsed, conceding four straight goals for a 4-2 loss.

Elise Bussaglia, Camille Abily and Louisa Necib (now married and playing under the name of Cadamuro) started in both those games against the USA and remain key figures in midfield. Cadamuro has already announced that she will retire after the Olympics. The national team futures of Sarah BouhaddiSabrina Delannoy, speed merchant Elodie Thomis, Abily and Bussaglia -- who will all be 30 years old or older this year -- and their coach, Philippe Bergeroo, are uncertain.

France will host the 2019 Women's World Cup, but the team could see major changes if it doesn't medal at the Rio Olympics.

2. New generation arrives.

A new generation of young players is ready to take over, though. Amel Majri, 23, started for France at the Women's World Cup and is one of the most dangerous attacking threats in women's soccer from left back.

Griedge Mbock Bathy, 21, is starting at center back in the place of former Boston College star Laura Georges, who is injured and didn't travel to Brazil. Kadidiatou Diani, also 21, started in place of Thomis against Colombia and had a strong game on the wing opposite Cadamuro.

Claire Lavogez, 22, may be the best of the bunch but has still not broken into the starting lineup ahead of Amandine Henry, Bussaglia and Abily in midfield. Lavogez was the only player who missed a penalty kick in the shootout against Germany a year ago. Bergeroo says Lavogez struggled after the World Cup when she switched clubs, but he loves her spirit, saying she'd go to war for him.

3. Beware of the Bleues on free kicks.

The last two goals against Colombia were scored by Abily and Majri on free kicks, give France four goals on free kicks in their last three games.

Abily also scored on a free kick for France for the lone goal in the 1-0 win over Canada in Auxerre in its last game before heading to Brazil. In the 3-0 win over China five days before that, Cadamuro's free kick found Wendie Renard for the second goal.

2 comments about "Rio Olympics: USA-France, women's battle of giants".
  1. stewart hayes, August 5, 2016 at 11:33 p.m.


  2. R2 Dad, August 6, 2016 at 5:05 p.m.

    Heath and Brian are starting--why? Pugh is on the bench, along with Rapinoe; they're two difference-makers, one of which should have started for such a big game. Now 0-0 at the half. If we wait around long enough a France set piece will come back to bite.

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