France-USA: Les Bleues keep producing new stars -- and keep winning despite turmoil

On Tuesday, the USA faces France in its second and last international women's friendly of the April window.

The last time they met was in Paris in June 28, 2019, in the quarterfinals of the Women's World Cup. FIFA did nothing to separate the host and reigning champion before the tournament moved to Lyon for the final four, and a crowd of 45,595 fans at the Parc des Princes and watched the USA beat France, 2-1.

The USA went on win its second world championship under Jill Ellis and fourth overall and has since gone unbeaten in 17 games under new coach Vlatko Andonovski, extending its unbeaten to 38 games.

And Les Bleues since the meeting at the Parc? Head coach Corinne Diacre came under a lot of scrutiny for how she handled the underachieving French in 2019 and her ongoing feud with senior members of the national team from Lyon, the dominant team of European soccer. But Diacre keeps her job because France keeps producing new stars and keeps winning. Since the 2019 World Cup, Les Bleues have not lost a game, winning 14 games and tying two others.

Like the USA, France has fed on an appetite of largely weak opposition, competing against the likes of North Macedonia, Kazakhstan and Serbia in qualifying for Euro 2021 (pushed back to 2022 because of the COVID-19 pandemic). But it served notice on Friday when it beat England, 3-1, in Caen, despite playing without many of its biggest stars.

"I watched the game back against England," said U.S. defender Crystal Dunn, who is married to Frenchman Pierre Soubrier, "and what I see is still a large group of talented players. France has a really deep player pool, and the players we're going to face tomorrow are going to throw many challenges at us. They're talented, they're technical and they're very dynamic."

A COVID-19 outbreak at Lyon forced four players -- Wendie Renard, Amandine Henry, Amel Majri and Delphine Cascarino -- who played in the 2019 quarterfinal match in Paris to skip the April friendlies. (A fifth player, Griedge Mbock, tested positive for COVID-19 but is injured and would not have been selected.)

France benefits from the most ambitious women's player development system in the world -- the French federation's residential program has been expanded to eight "pôles espoirs," where young women attend classes and train during the week -- and soccer is increasingly embraced by young women from immigrant families with roots in North Africa, West Africa, the Caribbean and other European countries and in the surrounding Parisian region that has produced many of the French male stars.

Marie-Antoinette Katoto, who is of Congolese descent, has finally settled into Diacre's lineup at center forward after being controversially left out of the 2019 World Cup team. She has scored 79 goals in the last four seasons for Paris St. Germain and seven goals in her last four games for France.

Elisa de Almeida, a 23-year-old central defender of Portuguese descent, has taken advantage of injuries to claim a starting job on the national team. She started playing soccer when she was 5 but spent her first 10 years playing with mostly boys in the same department that produced Thierry Henry, Patrice Evra and Anthony Martial. She began her pro career at Juvisy (now Paris FC) and moved to Montpellier in 2019.

Sandy Baltimore, whose family hails from Guadeloupe, has played in France's last four matches and scored against England. Like Katoto, the 21-year-old Baltimore hails from the same Paris suburb, Colombes, and signed with PSG when she was 15.

For most French players, Tuesday's match at Le Havre's Stade Océane, site of the USA's last defeat in January 2019, will be the biggest international match of their career. Unlike the USA, France isn't going to Tokyo, so the match will its Olympic moment.

France Roster:
GOALKEEPERS (3): 1-Solène Durand (Guingamp), 20-Pauline Peyraud-Magnin (Atletico Madrid, ESP), 16-Constance Picaud (Le Havre)
DEFENDERS (9): 19-Estelle Cascarino (Bordeaux), 22-Élisa de Almeida (Montpellier), 24-Océane Deslandes (Reims), 25-Grace Kazadi (Atletico Madrid, ESP), 23-Perle Morroni (Paris SG), 2-Ève Périsset (Bordeaux), 3-Julie Thibaud (Bordeaux), 4-Marion Torrent (Montpellier), 5-Aïssatou Tounkara (Atletico Madrid, ESP)
MIDFIELDERS (6): 15- Kenzi Dali (West Ham United, ENG), 8-Grace Geyoro (Paris SG), 6-Inès Jauréna (Bordeaux), 7-Oriane Jean-François (Paris FC), 10-Léa Khelifi (Paris SG), 14-Ella Palis (Bordeaux)
FORWARDS (7): 18-Viviane Asseyi (Bayern Munich, GER), 17-Sandy Baltimore (Paris SG), 11-Kadidiatou Diani (Paris SG), 20-Louise Fleury (Guingamp), 13-Valérie Gauvin (Everton, ENG), 12-Marie-Antoinette Katoto (Paris SG), 9-Eugénie le Sommer (Lyon).

3 comments about "France-USA: Les Bleues keep producing new stars -- and keep winning despite turmoil".
  1. R2 Dad, April 13, 2021 at 3:13 a.m.

    France made Englnd look pedestrian in the second half. They will be a handful to defend--curious how that will work with our defenders who aren't often required to do much of that.

  2. Michael Saunders replied, April 13, 2021 at 10:38 a.m.

    Kudos to Paul Kennedy and the Soccer America staff for this article. Their reporting on the palyer development system in France is too often overlooked despite the obvious fact that their young players are dynamic and effective on the international stage.  

  3. George Miller, April 13, 2021 at 12:26 p.m.

    Love the comments. At least 2 people are watching

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