The 2019 Women’s World Cup: France vs Brazil
France 2-1 Brazil (After Extra Time)
The hosts, then, continue to edge their way towards the final without really impressing. Following the unedifying spectacle on display in Valenciennes earlier in the day it rather felt as though this summer’s Women’s World Cup could do with a palate cleanser, and at least by the time this match had ended we could reflect upon the football rather than the robotic referee, geopolitical inequalities or any of other myriad issues that surrounded the match between England and Cameroon.
This was a pure football experience, a tumultuous, intense evening of the type that tournament football is capable of throwing up from time to time. Considering the cast of characters for whom this may well be turn out to be a swansong, this was fitting. If such players as Formiga (41 years old), Marta (33), Monica (32) and Cristiane (34) are to bow out from the international game before the next World Cup, it’s entirely appropriate that this should have come at the end of such a tense and nervous evening. Sure enough, France are through, but goodness me Brazil made them work for it.
This was a match that took a little while to come to the boil, with both teams spending much of the first twenty minutes feeling each other, pushing and prodding for signs of vulnerability. After twenty-six minutes, though, Valerie Gauvin bundled the ball over the line, but (and unfortunately there’s no way of resolving how repetitive this is starting to sound) after an interjection from the VAR, it was disallowed for reasons that weren’t made entirely clear. Six minutes were added to the end of the first half, but to little effect.
As has been the case more than once already in this tournament, though, France came out after the interval looking thoroughly refreshed, and seven minutes in a perfectly weighted low cross from Kadidiatou Diani was turned in by Gauvin. For the second match in a row, though, France seemed unable to consolidate their lead. Four minutes later, a free-kick from Marta on the left-hand side was headed goalwards by Cristiane only to bounce out off the crossbar. The warning, however, didn’t seem to be heeded and Thaisa fired a low, angled shot into the French goal. This time, the referee pulled it back for offside only for the VAR to overrule that decision. So it goes. With three minutes to play it was Brazil’s turn to feel slightly aggrieved when Tamires put the ball into the French goal, only for the offside call to be against her.
So, extra-time then. Thirty minutes of football that swung from end to end like a ship in high seas. And two minutes into the second half, France grabbed the goal which saw them through to the quarter-finals when a free-kick from Amel Majri was turned in by Amandine Henry from close range. Delirium descended upon Le Havre again, and this time there was no Robo-Beak being stuck in to dampen the celebrations and there was no way back into the match for Brazil. Indeed, with tiredness setting in Brazil struggled to create any viable way of finding a route back into the game and the best chance of the closing stages fell to France, when Diani shot from inside the penalty area only for Barbara, one of the standout goalkeepers seen in this tournament, to touch the ball away.
Perhaps this was the cost of all the experience at their disposal. Time makes fools of us all and, whilst none of the Brazilian players could ever be described in such terms, there was a feeling that ageing limbs aren’t the most use when heading into extra-time on such a pressure cooker of an evening. They gave it everything they had, but the second France goal was, put simply, a step too far. Brazil will leave this tournament with “what ifs” hanging in the air. They finished in third place in their group via a combination of goal difference and goals scored, and it was this that teed them up for such a difficult second round match in the first place. In tournament football such huge matters can come to rest on very slim margins. Brazil are the strongest team to have been knocked out of this competition so far.
France, meanwhile, remain enigmatic. Their performance yesterday evening was full of character and verve, but their seeming inability to thoroughly kill games off at the first bite of the cherry doesn’t bode particularly well for their quarter-final against the United States of America or Spain. They keep on scraping home, having been far from comfortable in winning last night or in either of their two previous matches against Nigeria and Norway. They have plenty of space into which they can improve, such is the nature of the talent that they have at their disposal, but they’ll need to in time for the next day should they – as they’re almost-universally expected to – have to face an ominous-looking USA team in the next round. They may not get second chances against this opposition that they did in this match or the two that preceded it.