After France secured a spot in the Women’s World Cup last 16, head coach Corinne Diacre has upped the stakes for “Les Bleues”: to come away from the group stages undefeated with a victory over Nigeria in Rennes on Monday.
For Diacre, the host nation’s June 17 meet against Nigeria is about making a statement. “Our goal is to try to top the group, even though a draw would suffice,” Diacre said at a press conference on Sunday. “We are going to go out and try to win the match because that’s always good for confidence.”
France have already secured their place in the final 16 following their first two matches, with a 4-0 win over South Korea and a 2-1 victory over Norway. But Diacre is seeking a hat trick of victories from what is France's third and final Group A match.
Diacre acknowledged that she plans to tweak her lineup against Nigeria, but indicated she won’t mess with what’s already proved to be working.
“Given that we are trying to win our third straight match, we need to stay with the same dynamic,” she said. “I don’t know how many changes. I’m not going to tell you either way. We want to remain competitive so we are going to put out a strong starting 11.”
Swede dreams for Nigeria
Nigeria lost 3-0 to Norway in its opener, but the nine-time African champions rebounded with a 2-0 win over South Korea. Nigeria remains the only African nation to have qualified for every Women’s World Cup since the tournament began in 1991.
Nigeria's team, nicknamed the Super Falcons and ranked 38th in the world, can still reach the next round – and they only need to draw against France.
Francisca Ordega is among the many Nigerian players still haunted by an 8-0 loss to France last year, and the forward said her squad wants revenge.
“We are not scared of France,” she said. “I like challenges.”
Diacre said that a lot has happened with the Nigeria team since they appointed Thomas Dennerby, the Swede who led his home country's women's team to a third place at the 2011 World Cup.
“Nigeria has worked a lot. The match will be totally different. When I met the coach during the draw, he promised me we were in for a tough match,” Diacre said.
Dijon and France midfielder Elise Bussaglia recalls her country's narrow 1-0 victory over Nigeria in the 2011.
“It’s never obvious against them,” she said, noting she expects it to be a physically demanding game, with the Nigerians launching plenty of fast counter-attacks. “We’ve already qualified with these six points, which is a good thing.”
Nigeria currently holds three Group A points after its 2-0 win over South Korea, and the latter team could also still go through if they win today against Norway and other results go their way.
For 25-year-old Nigeria captain Desire Oparanozie, who is playing in her third World Cup, the match has a special flavour given that she plays her club football in France for Guingamp.
"I will have a couple of my friends in the French team," she said ahead of the game.
But, she said, "when you're playing against the host nation, you're not just playing against 11 players, you're playing against the crowd".
The biggest Women’s World Cup in history
The tournament is the biggest Women’s World Cup in history, with 14 out of 52 matches having been sold out, and the governing body, FIFA, having sold a record total of 206 broadcasting rights.
"We are delighted that people are interested in women's football," Diacre said of the sold-out stadiums. "We know that the women's game has developed significantly over the last several years. Clearly people identify with the game and are turning out in big numbers, and we are very pleased with that."
But although the 2019 prize pot of $30 million is double that of the 2015 finals in Canada, it remains a far cry from the men’s $575m World Cup prize money.
(FRANCE 24 with AP and AFP)
This article is a translation of the original, which appeared in French.