Hosts France laid down a marker in the opening game of the women’s World Cup as towering defender Wendie Renard scored twice in a convincing 4-0 win over South Korea to kick off the tournament in style in Paris on Friday.
A sell-out crowd of 45,261 filled the Parc des Princes to watch the start of what is billed as the biggest women’s World Cup yet, but there was no sign of the pressure getting to the French.
Les Bleues are among the favourites to win the trophy on home soil and they showed no mercy to the Koreans, with the prolific Eugenie Le Sommer giving them an early lead and Renard — the tallest player at the tournament — twice heading home before the interval.
Captain Amandine Henry, impressive throughout, wrapped up the win in this Group A encounter, a goal she said was “the realisation of a dream I had as a little girl”.
“We went into the match the right way,” Henry told broadcaster TF1, revealing her team had become emotional during the national anthem.
“We were close to tears when the ‘Marseillaise’ was playing, the emotions were running high.”
French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte watched France’s victory, sitting alongside FIFA chief Gianni Infantino.
– ‘Explosion’ of women’s game –
Infantino had this week promised the month-long tournament would see the “explosion” of the women’s game as he was re-elected unopposed at the head of world football’s governing body. Almost a million tickets have been sold for matches in the nine host cities.
This was certainly a fine start with a carnival atmosphere despite the cool evening and the French showing their credentials.
France’s own football federation have set the team the target of going all the way to the final in Lyon on July 7.
AFP / Lionel BONAVENTURE
Artists perform during the opening ceremony in Paris
The problem for coach Corinne Diacre’s side is that, if they win their group, they could well end up facing reigning champions the United States in Paris in the quarter-finals.
Germany, who face China on Saturday, and England are also among the contenders.
The USA, whose legal battle to be paid the same as their male counterparts has made waves in the run-up to the tournament, start their campaign against Thailand in Reims on Tuesday.
Ranked fourth in the world, the French women have underperformed at recent major tournaments, losing in the quarter-finals of the last World Cup, Euro 2017 and the last Olympics.
Diacre is relying on a core of players from Lyon, Europe’s leading club side who won a fourth successive Champions League last month.
There were seven Lyon players in France’s starting line-up, and two of them combined for the ninth-minute opener, captain Henry with the low ball into the box for Le Sommer to fire in off the crossbar. It was Le Sommer’s 75th goal for her country.
South Korea offered little, with their star player, Chelsea’s Ji So-yun, barely touching the ball.
France thought they had a second before the half-hour mark when Renard’s header down was hooked into the net by Griedge Mbock, but after the celebrations had finally died down, the goal was disallowed for an extremely tight offside following a VAR review.
The 1.87-metre (6ft 1ins) Renard was not to be denied, however, as she headed in Gaetane Thiney’s corner from the right in the 35th minute to make it 2-0.
She did it again in first-half stoppage time, this time heading in an Amel Majri corner from the other side.
Korea can count themselves lucky that this did not turn into a full-blown rout, although the excellent Henry curled in a delightful fourth from 20 yards with five minutes left.
“I would like to say sorry to football fans in Korea,” said their coach, Yoon Deok-yeo. “Today’s match showed how strong France are.”