France tops Norway with help from controversial VAR call
NICE, France -- The French women's national team needed a bit of help from the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) to ensure that it maintained its perfect start to the 2019 Women's World Cup, as it defeated Norway 2-1 in an eventful group stage match.
Following Valerie Gauvin's opening strike just one minute into the second half and Wendie Renard's bizarre own goal, France was searching for a winner. The opportunity came in the 70th minute, when Ingrid Engen caught Marion Torrent, and it was deemed enough for VAR to intervene. After reviewing the incident on the pitch side monitor, referee Bibiana Steinhaus awarded a penalty kick. Near the banks of the aptly named River Var, Eugenie Le Sommer duly slotted the penalty, and France held on for a win that all but books the team's spot in the knockout stages, much to the delight of the 34,872 fans in Stade de Nice.
Here are five takeaways from an eventful night on the French Riviera:
VAR becomes the main talking point again.
VAR has so far in this Women's World Cup never been far from the headlines -- and again, it will dominate the postmatch proceedings. Two questions remain. For VAR to be used, it needs to be a "clear and obvious error" -- was Steinhaus' letting Engen's tackle on Torrent slide enough to fulfill that criteria? And secondly, if a player goes in and seemingly wins the ball first and then the force of the tackle takes her foot through and connects on the player, does that warrant a penalty? Emma Hayes, the Chelsea manager, said on the BBC that the penalty call was a "ridiculous decision" and not "clear or obvious."
Norway manager Martin Sjögren remained on the fence immediately after the game.
"I need to see it again before I can decide for myself," Sjögren said. "I think we were, like, punished a bit, but I'm not sure if it was a penalty or not."
Will this lead to managers telling their players to dial down the forceful tackles in the penalty area? Sjögren dismissed the notion as "quite impossible."
Wendie Renard continues Golden Boot chase -- for the wrong reasons.
Renard's fitness was one of the main topics leading into the game as France monitored a knock she picked up in the opener against South Korea. While she showed no ill effects and was once again a dominant force on defense, her performance will be remembered for a bizarre moment in the second half.
Norway stormed down France's right wing when Isabell Herlovsen combined with the brilliant Guro Reiten to send a low cross into France's 6-yard box. As the boots flailed in an attempt to make contact, it eventually fell to Renard, who passed the ball into her own net.
She has now found the back of the net three times in the tournament, but don't expect Renard to dwell on this mishap too long. She'll be back to her world-class, meticulous best before you know it.
Don't believe everything Diacre says.
The day before the match, manager Corinne Diacre told the world that she would be keeping the same starting XI for Norway that beat South Korea 4-0 in France's opener. Then an hour before the game, when the team sheets were handed out, it read Gauvin in the starting XI instead of Delphine Cascarino. Gauvin, who was dropped from the opener after being late to training, repaid Diacre's faith as she scored the first goal just moments into the second half. Diacre laughed it off postmatch, saying, "Don't believe everything I say," and left Gauvin with the Player of the Match award.
"Since I've been a young girl, I've had a strong mindset," Gauvin said. "I've never had an easy life, and my family are my best supporters, and they taught me to never let go. I concentrate on what I know I can do best. It's about giving the best I have and be effective and efficient when I work with my team players.
"As we saw in the first match, I tried to give the best I could to show that even I was on the bench at first and then entered afterward, I was still there with the group."
Norway will be a feared opponent in the knockout stages.
Although Norway fell 2-1 to France, it showed enough to prove how much of a force it will be in the knockout stages. Sjögren was correct that his team showed enough to warrant a point from the game, as his tactics of hitting France on the counter-attack worked well.
Chelsea defender Maria Thorisdottir was a rock at the back of Norway's team, while Reiten, who will join her at Chelsea next season, was lethal down the left wing. Her distribution rivals that of any other players in this competition. Herlovsen also played well up top on her own, holding the ball well, drawing fouls and buying time to bring her teammates into the game.
Nice comes out to welcome France
After France's opening win over South Korea in front of its packed Parc des Princes faithful, it sold an additional 6,000 tickets for Wednesday's match in Nice. While FIFA backtracked on the number of sold-out games on Tuesday -- clarifying that it was 14, not 20, games -- there were a few spare seats, but it did not detract from the atmosphere in Stade de Nice, where the 34,872 fans fell just short of capacity (35,624).
However, it was noticeable how quiet the stadium went when Norway was attacking. If France is to continue to ride its wave of home fervor, it will need the support at full voice for the rest of the campaign. Although Diacre described the French team as "outsiders" for the title after Wednesday's game, make no mistake about it: This crowd expects France to win the whole tournament.