Heading into their quarterfinal meeting Sunday in the Women's European Championship, England has the momentum and France has the history.
So how are both
teams approaching their first foray in the knockout round? By talking smack, a lot of it.
Brash talk is rife in the men's game and sometimes proves to be more entertaining than the
matches themselves. While there's no shortage of arrogance and confidence amongst the top women's players, they don't square off in big competitions nearly as often as their male counterparts, so
opportunities for friction and barbs and pointed critiques are fewer.
Where one draws the line is a personal judgment. Most people, and certainly U.S. Soccer, felt former U.S. goalkeeper
Hope Solo stepped into bad taste by calling Sweden "cowardly" after it eliminated the U.S. in the 2016 Olympic tournament. But that remark came after the fact, not in the leadup, during the
important phase of preparation in which coaches and players hone their physical, tactical, and psychological weapons.
For France and England the battle has been joined. Both have
ambitions of claiming the European crown for the first time and riding that momentum all the way to the next WWC. The European game could use some freshening. Germany has won eight of the 11 European
competitions staged for women and the last six in a row. The last team to dethrone the Germans was Norway in 1993 and in this year's edition the Norwegians did not advance to the elimination
France won only one of its three group games to finish second in Group C while England rolled to three straight victories in Group D, but France has won all of their last three
meetings in major competitions. England manager Mark Sampson took exception when his counterpart in charge of France, Olivier Echouafni, said England “not want to play France” and
“I promise you nothing will stop us."
Echouafni is coaching France in a major competition for the first time and hopes to secure a long-term contract that will bond him and the team
through its hosting of the 2019 Women's World Cup. France is ranked third in the world and England fifth, though for the quarterfinal the French will be missing Wendie Renard, who is among the
world's top defenders and must serve a one-game suspension.
Sampson said Echoufani is “wet behind the ears when it comes to tournament football," which is a cliched but accurate jab
at his inexperience at this level in the women's game. Echoufani, 44, played 480 games in the French League from 1993 to 2010 and coached the men's teams of Amiens and Sochaux prior to replacing
Phillipe Bergeroo as manager of national women's team last September.
France certainly has history on its side; England last won a game between the nations in 1974. They met in the
SheBelieves Cup in March; France won, 2-1. Sampson has been in charge of England since 2013 and two years ago guided it to the semifinals of a major competition for the first time in the program's
history. After losing in the Women's World Cup semifinals to Japan, England attained another first by beating Germany in the third-place match.
“He’ll learn who to talk about
and who not to,” said Sampson. “We are an experienced team and I’m an experienced manager. But luckily for them the game is not played in the press room. It’s a great challenge
for us to face France but we want to win this tournament – and win it the right way, by beating the best teams."
The current rankings list the U.S. first, Germany second, and Canada
fourth. The England-France winner will face either the host Netherlands or Sweden, which play their quarterfinal Saturday. Germany is on the other side of the bracket; it plays Saturday against
Denmark, with the winner advancing to face either Austria or Spain.
"There are some great teams in this tournament, and we are certainly one of them," said Sampson. "We are in a good
There's a lot more than prestige and honor at stake. A pool of 8 million euros ($9.4 million) is to be divided amongst the eight teams that have advanced to the quarterfinals. The
winning team gets $3.7 million, a staggering sum for a women's program.