The pressure is on for France, Women's World Cup host
The prospect of facing the United States in the Women's World Cup could sound daunting, but France's head coach, Corinne Diacre, promises she won't lose any sleep over it. At least not now. After Saturday's draw in Paris, Diacre knows her team could potentially play the Yanks in the quarter finals on June 28. Yet, she refuses to think about it and is instead focusing on getting her Les Bleues World Cup-ready.
"First, the Americans have to top their group -- and we have to as well. It is not a given," Diacre told ESPN. "We will see then. What I want is my team to finish first. I don't mind who we face in the knock out stages after that. We will focus on our first three matches. Then we will be ready for whatever comes our way, whether that's the USA or someone else."
The draw was kind to France. Les Bleus was placed in a group with South Korea, Norway and Nigeria. The manager was happy. She and her players wanted to avoid Brazil or Japan, which they did. South Korea is ranked 14th and will be France's first opponent on June 7. Norway (June 12) is 13th, and its star and Ballon d'Or winner, Ada Hegerberg, has retired from international football while Nigeria (June 17) is the African champions but ranked only 39th.
"The World Cup starts now," says Diacre, 44, a former France center back with 121 caps between 1993 and 2005. "I am already there in my head. We have six months to be the most ready we can be for our first game. I want to know everything possible about our three group stage opponents. All my thoughts are there: how they play, what are their strengths."
Diacre's focus is on approaching the opening match in the best way. "In a group of four like this one, we know how crucial the first game is," she says. "This one is even more important as it is also the first one of the tournament. There is no point putting ourselves under too much pressure now. We know that we are the favorite in our group, but nothing will be easy."
Of course, facing the U.S. in the quarterfinals would be a tough prospect. The reigning World Champions, who also won in 1991 and 1999, are well known by the French with players including Megan Rapinoe, Allie Long or Alex Morgan all having played in the French league. "The USA are the favorites of this World Cup," she says. "They have a culture of winning. They have lifted this trophy before, like Germany. We are not the favorites. We are the outsiders. It is not because you host the tournament that you are the favorites."
France's best result in this competition is fourth place in 2011, the same rank they reached in the Olympic Games the following year.
Diacre took over last year after a disappointing European Championship which ended at the quarter final stage under Olivier Echouafni. The now PSG manager got sacked not long after France's exit. Diacre will always be known as the first woman to manage a men's professional team in Europe, after three solid seasons at Clermont (2014-2017) in France's second division.
Now, she wants to make her mark by taking her country to the top. Since she arrived, Les Bleus is unbeaten in its last eight games, including victories against Brazil (3-1) and Germany (3-0). "I know why I am here," she says. "I have a clear objective to reach, which is to get at least to the semifinals [of the World Cup].
"The goal is to create the best squad possible. I want players with personality and character. But we saw with the men's team that the success for [coach] Didier Deschamps and his staff was that the players who didn't play much in Russia still had a perfect attitude. I want the same thing for our World Cup, a squad with solidarity and unity."
On top of that, she is coaching the women to be rigorous, to work hard and to perform. One test of that will be a friendly against the U.S. in Le Havre, France, on January 19. It will give Diacre and her team their first World Cup taste -- and a good marker before a potential reunion in June.