The 2019 Women’s World Cup kicked off in the Parc des Princes in Paris with a confident 4-0 win for hosts France against South Korea, with centre back Wendie Renard netting twice.
Forward Eugenie Le Sommer had opened the scoring for France, before Les Bleues’ other central defender Griedge Mbock Bathy saw a goal disallowed following a VAR check.
Renard made full use of her significant height advantage in the box to score twice before half time from set pieces, before late in the second half French captain Amandine Henry netted a superb fourth.
South Korea looked nervous from the first moments of the game, especially in defence, and France’s superior movement took advantage of that to full effect.
Continually Marion Torrent and Delphine Cascarino combined out wide to burst past the South Korean defence, whipping dangerous balls into the box. Similarly, Le Sommer and full back Amel Majri did the same on the opposite wing.
The opening goal of the 2019 Women’s World Cup came from exactly that style of move. Pace out wide caused South Korea problems and Le Sommer pounced on the defensive disorganisation to drive home the crucial first goal on home turf.
Nerves continued to press South Korea, seen clearly when they spurned their chance to create some pressure on the French box from a corner straight out of play into the side netting of Sarah Bouhaddi’s goal.
France thought they had a second from a beautifully worked set piece, in comparison, not long after. A short take saw it played out wide of the box and swung from a deeper angle, before Renard headed it back across the South Korea box towards defensive partner Mbock Bathy.
The Olympique Lyonnais defender, who was sporting quite a significant knee brace, struck home an effort from an awkward height acrobatically, only to then find it ruled out by a lengthy VAR check.
Much to the frustrations of the partisan French crowd, the VAR check took several minutes. However, when a final decision was made, and the visual graphic shown, Mbock Bathy did indeed have a foot beyond the last defender and the call to disallow the goal was correct.
It didn’t matter for too long though for the host nation, as not long after France had another set piece and this time simply opted to stick the ball onto the head of Renard.
The towering centre back, one of the tournaments tallest players at 6ft 1″ and standing nearly half a foot above her South Korean opponents, found little challenge in guiding the ball past opposition goalkeeper Kim Min-Jeong.
That height proved potent once again from another set piece late in first half stoppage time, as Renard powered a strong header into the back of the South Korean net once again. The goal came from France’s 10th corner of the first half, and Renard had been a danger at almost every one where a good delivery had been made.
South Korea looked to create at least some chances in the second half and the introduction of young starlet Kang Chae-Rim, a 21-year-old making just her second senior international appearance, sparked a few rare chances for the team in white.
Kang showed determination in making space and a rare run towards the French box, putting in a good cross but there was nobody there to meet it. Shortly after the youngster, with number 23 emblazoned across the back of her shirt, was involved again, firing over after collecting the ball near the edge of the French box.
Renard made a mistake late on to allow South Korea through in a one-on-one chance with Bouhaddi but Lee Min-A saw the pressure get to her and spurned the chance wide poorly.
Even despite the occasional South Korean chance in the second half, France never looked in danger of relinquishing any ounce of control on the match and late on in the match they rounded off their dominant opening match display.
Captain fantastic Henry picked up the ball midway inside the South Korean half and drove towards the box, cutting inside and stroking home a beautiful, curling effort into the far corner of the net.
The smiles and celebrations, dancing with her teammates, showed the joy and emotion that was being felt all around the stadium in Paris as Les Bleues showed why they have gone into their home tournament as joint favourites with the USA.
A late flurry of desire came from the South Korean players, but ultimately – much like most of the match – they simply couldn’t find enough creativity to make significant distance up the pitch, having started entrenched so deep from the constant French pressure.
It was a brilliant opening display from the host side, who demonstrated to frightening degree the talent and attacking desire that coach Corinne Diacre has at her disposal and lay down a real marker to the rest of the top-ranked sides in the tournament.
This is France’s tournament. They have spoken many a time about wanting to follow in the men’s side’s footsteps and lift the World Cup come tournament’s end.
Well, against an albeit shaky South Korean side, they showed they certainly have the quality to do so.
They were always one to watch going into the tournament, but big sides sometimes falter under pressure. Sometimes the expectations can weigh too heavy on the minds of players and cost teams expected to do well. Some sides simply cannot match what is expected of them before the tournament begins.
Diacre’s France do not seem to be one of those sides.