Frenchwoman Amandine Henry (blue jersey) against Austria, December 1, 2023, in Rennes. DAMIEN MEYER / AFP
Favorite in its Nations League group, the French women’s football team held its place by qualifying, Friday, December 1, for the four-way final of the European competition thanks to its clear success, in Rennes, on the Austria 3-0.
With 13 points in five games, the Blues have had an almost perfect run and can no longer be joined by their evening opponent, second, who only has 7 points. The last meeting of the group stages, in Portugal, on Tuesday, will therefore have the appearance of a friendly meeting.
Hervé Renard’s players join the Spanish world champions, already qualified, while the other two tickets will be played between Germany and Denmark, on the one hand, and a trio made up of the Netherlands, champions of European titles English and surprising Belgians, moreover.
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Less technically talented but very tactically disciplined in their 4-4-2, the Austrians, who absolutely needed a victory to still believe in qualification, had come to Brittany with offensive ambitions from the start.
With a strike from Barbara Dunst which forced French goalkeeper Pauline Peyraud-Magnin to take a nice horizontal shot to her left (7th), an uncrossed header from Eileen Campbell which grazed the right post a few seconds later and a long shot from Marie Höbinger who found the crossbar (17th), Austria would have deserved to score in the first act.
Rant at halftime
But it was, on the contrary, the French who were the first to find the fault. While Hervé Renard had warned before the match about the Austrian strength on set pieces, Amandine Henry, with a header, opened the scoring on a free kick from Selma Bacha (1-0, 5th).
France could even have doubled the lead before the break, the regional player of the stage Eugénie Le Sommer obtaining a penalty for an opposing hand. But she saw her attempt diverted to her left by Manuela Zinsberger (44th).
It was only a postponement since the top scorer in the history of the selection victoriously took a cross from Elisa de Almeida in the 57th minute (2-0) to the delight of the 26,453 spectators who filled Roazhon Park.
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Criticizing the lack of determination of his players during the first period, Hervé Renard admitted that the walls of the locker room “a little shook” at half-time during his speech and that of the French captain, Wendie Renard.
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“We have the impression that we always have to put a little pressure on. I felt like I was with the Saudis”he joked in reference to a famous rant during the Argentina-Saudi Arabia break of the last World Cup, where he vehemently asked one of his players responsible for defending on Lionel Messi to he didn’t want to ask the Argentinian for an autograph.
But the charismatic coach also underlined the realism of his team: “Thirteen points out of fifteen [possibles], It’s good. There is one match left. Qualification for the Final Four is assured. So congratulations to them because they worked well. »
Katoto’s notable return
The story would not have been completely beautiful without Marie-Antoinette Katoto, absent for a year and a half from the selection due to a serious knee injury, standing out. Left on the bench at kick-off, she was launched at half-time by Hervé Renard. Showing herself generous in the calls, she cut magnificently, in the 84th minute, a corner from the right to complete the triumph of the Blues. His big smile after his goal spoke volumes about his pleasure at scoring again.
Marie-Antoinette Katoto (number 14) celebrates her goal against Austria, December 1, 2023, in Rennes. DAMIEN MEYER / AFP
“I didn’t expect not to start this match, I’m not going to start like that. I am very patient, especially since there are many great things that have been formed with Hervé Renard and the team”she commented. “Personally it was a little hard for me”she then admitted in her first forty-five minutes at international level, “but it’s a great step forward and I’m happy”she hastened to add.
“She measures the progress she still has to make but she is aware of it, that’s the most important thing”judged Hervé Renard, believing that his goal “will give him more confidence”.
Read also: Marie-Antoinette Katoto returns to the French team, after a year and a half of absence
The French coach also highlighted the good performances of Amandine Henry in the middle and Griedge Mbock in defense. “These are the girls we missed. Today, they bring this additional maturity and experience which is enormous”he detailed.
Les Bleues will compete, at the end of February 2024, in the “Final Four” without the pressure of an Olympic qualification to win, since they are automatically participating in the Paris Olympics this summer, their main objective.