In the opening match of the World Cup, France played like a team who expects to win this tournament. They came out spitting fire in a first half that saw them score three goals, with another ruled offside by VAR. And they could easily have had three or four more. Their press was aggressive and South Korea almost literally couldn’t get a foot on the ball for much of the half. That press directly created the first French goal with Amandine picking a pocket, racing through acres of open space, and then calmly delivering a ball for Eugenie Le Sommer to put away.
The other French goals came from corners, as did the disallowed goal. In a match where France dominated possession and created so many clear chances, for South Korea to also be so bad at defending corners completely sealed the result. That said, many teams will find it difficult to defend against Wendie Renard, whose two goals make her the surprise frontrunner for the Golden Boot so far.
Also deserving special attention is Delphine Cascarino, who was unplayable on the right sight of the France attack. Jang Selgi simply couldn’t handle her, but even when she had assistance, Cascarino merely passed back to Torrent at right back or Henry in the midfield and then raced past the defenders to receive the ball back.
It was a blistering half, which more or less concluded the night. In the second half, France took their foot off the gas to some extent, while South Korea finally found at least some of their defensive footing, creating a much cagier 45 minutes. France did manage to find a fourth goal, however, with Amandine Henry the deserving goal-scorer. The French captain had an excellent game, in a relatively free role that saw her covering a lot of territory and making life miserable for South Korea on both sides of the ball.
This was a statement game from France. The result was not surprising – they were always going to be heavy favorites in all three group games – but it was still important to come out strong and prove they were deserving of the status as co-favorites. It was also important for the crowd to make their presence known, and they came through strong. The atmosphere was intense, and created a powerful synergy between team and fans, with both seeming to drawn even more energy from the other. As Renard said after the match: “When you have more than 45,000 people singing the French national anthem, obviously it drives you forward.”
Home field advantage is a real and significant effect, but it always has to be somewhat balanced against the additional pressure that can come from raised expectations. To put away this sort of result at the start of the tournament should help France enormously as they progress into the later rounds. Diacre did her best to limit expectations, saying “this was just one step on the road, but we have six more steps to go to realize our ambitions” but she also acknowledged “it’s always better to start well.” And she will certainly be pleased with how her team handled the moment.
For South Korea, this will be a game to forget – both literally and figuratively. They finally found a bit of defensive rhythm and even managed to create one or two half-chances in the second half, but there was very little here that they will want to model for future games. Still, even a 4-0 result is not necessarily devastating, even with the hit to their goal difference. The other two games are certainly winnable. And even 4 points could well secure advancement. Against weaker opposition, they’ll have a bit more time to establish their shape, get defensive supports in place, and eventually get their attackers involved. Their delightful playmaker Ji So-yun had virtually no time on the ball tonight, but should be able to get more engaged in upcoming matches. South Korea’s hopes will probably hinge on that possibility.
From a US perspective, this certainly won’t have been a thrilling result. Tonight’s game certainly did nothing to lessen the potential of a quarterfinal showdown between the two favorites. To be sure, the US is extremely unlikely to leave such gaps in their defense, to succumb so easily to France’s press, or to allow Renard such easy access to crosses in the box. Even so, France looked like a team ready to win a World Cup today. If the US want to retain their title, they will likely need to overcome them, and it certainly will not be easy.