France's 4-0 win over South Korea to open the Women's World Cup sent a message to the field of 24–and also to the rest of the nation. Les Bleues are here to put on a show.

By Grant Wahl
June 07, 2019

PARIS — If the U.S. is on a collision course with France in this Women's World Cup—and they could very well meet in the quarterfinals—then the opening salvo fired by France on Friday should have the world champion Americans plenty concerned.

All week long, there had been questions about this French side. Would a team known as big-tournament chokers be overawed by the occasion of hosting a Women's World Cup? And would Les Bleues be able to drum up more attention in a city that was surprisingly lacking in visible evidence that a Women's World Cup was about to start? (Honestly, you saw more public promotion of the event this week in New York City than in Paris.)

Those questions were answered emphatically on Friday in France’s 4-0 opening-game destruction of South Korea at a sold-out Parc des Princes, where president Emmanuel Macron was in attendance and more than 45,000 fans celebrated by singing a stirring a cappella version of La Marseillaise late in the first half. (Try doing that with your national anthem.) France scored early and often, hanging three first-half goals on an overmatched Korean team that it outshot 21-4.

Joosep Martinson/FIFA/Getty Images

The French did so many things well that it was a little scary. Wendie Renard, the towering 6-foot-2 center back, headed home two set-piece goals. Amandine Henry, the silky midfielder, created the opening goal just nine minutes in by winning the ball in the Korean half and gliding downfield in transition to send a perfect cross to Eugenie Le Sommer for the earliest goal ever in a Women’s World Cup opener. Then, Henry added a surgical strike later for the fourth.

But there was more to the French than just the goals. They took care of all the little details. Wide players Delphine Cascarino and Amel Majri had some mesmerizing first touches on the ball at speed. The French press suffocated the Koreans, especially in the first half, forcing their coach to apologize to the team’s fans back home after the game. And the French execution off set pieces was glorious; the most elaborate of them was a misdirection corner kick routine that resulted in center back Griedge Mbock Bathy volleying the ball majestically into the goal, only for VAR to rule (correctly, if somewhat frustratingly) that she had been a few inches offside.

On a night with wind gusts that took your breath away, the scene was reminiscent of the French men's national team's opening game in the 1998 World Cup, when a mistral wind took over the Stade Velodrome in Marseille and Les Bleus huffed and puffed and blew away South Africa. That opening game set up a national love affair with a home team that went on to win its first World Cup, and you wonder if the vibe might be similar with this French team moving forward.

Joosep Martinson/FIFA/Getty Images

The French local organizing committee has been a bit sketchy so far when it comes to multiple ticket snafus and the Women's World Cup’s lack of visibility around Paris, but the joie de vivre of Friday’s French performance may well make up for it. It doesn’t hurt that the French media has been covering its women’s team in unprecedented ways, from airing the games on the national TF1 over-the-air channel (with the same commentators who do the men’s games) to the national sports daily L’Equipe devoting a small army of writers to the French team.

So don’t worry, the word on France will get out, and there’s nothing better to do that than a 4-0 blowout that will have the goal sequences being shown on repeat for the next several days on French TV. There’s nothing quite like the atmosphere that results from a host team doing well at a World Cup, and you couldn’t have asked for much more from France on Day 1 of a month-long odyssey.

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