France secure Women's World Cup win over Nigeria after VAR saves the day
For the second straight game, France benefited from a VAR decision, taking back-to-back penalty kicks after Nigerian goalkeeper Chiamaka Nnadozie moved off her line -- a situation that also happened in France's previous game against Norway. It was the only bright moment of a disappointing evening for the French, yet they got the 1-0 win they wanted on Monday night.
Wendie Renard scored her third goal of the tournament after retaking her penalty kick in the 79th minute, becoming the second French player to score three goals at a single Women's World Cup since Eugenie Le Sommer in 2015.
A perfect three for France
In the end, soccer is all about results. Another win, the third in three World Cup matches so far, is all that mattered to French manager Corinne Diacre and the players against Nigeria in Rennes. They didn't care about how they achieved it. They wanted another victory to keep the momentum and the dynamic alive, and they got it.
It was a game France didn't even have to win to top its group, but the players stayed focused and committed to make sure that, even after a disappointing performance, they got there eventually. The group stage is over. They have scored seven goals in three games and are yet to concede from an opposition player (Renard put the ball in her own net against Norway).
It is a great start to this World Cup. France has won all its group games for the first time in a Women's World Cup. However, improvement is needed, but at least there is a lot of room for improvement.
France lacked a lot of things
Maybe we expected too much from a game with not too much importance, as France had already qualified for the last 16. But Les Bleues' performance lacked pretty much everything on Monday evening, especially in the first half.
No intensity, no change of pace, no creativity, no width, no goal from open play. That's it. The four changes made by Diacre, including that of Le Sommer, the team's best performer so far in this World Cup, maybe explain part of it. Le Sommer, like Kadidiatou Diani, came on after just one hour, proof that this is not the same team without her. This game actually proved that the French don't actually have much depth, certainly not as much as the U.S., England or even Germany.
Gaetane Thiney struggling to be a leader
Thiney was dropped by France's previous head coach, but Diacre decided to build her team around Thiney in a No. 10 position in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Unfortunately, it is not working for her so far in this competition.
Thiney played poorly again on Monday. She should have scored after creating some big chances, but she lacked efficiency and precision, which pretty much sums up her World Cup so far. She played 89 minutes against Nigeria and had zero shots on target. She didn't create much either. France needs her at a much better level when the opposition gets better, as she holds a lot of the keys to France's success.
What's next for France?
Since the draw was made back in December, France's goal was to face the U.S. in Paris in the quarterfinals on June 28. It is the date and the game everyone has been looking forward to. Before that though, France has a last-16 match to play on June 23 in Le Havre and could face Brazil. That would be a tricky game against a very experienced opposition, but it could also be a World Cup classic.
"We are entering the second stage of our World Cup, the last 16. We wanted to get there with three wins, that's the case. We will start thinking about this next step now," Diacre said.
Nigeria deserves to see the last 16
The last time France played Nigeria, in Le Mans in 2018, it was in a friendly, and the French won 8-0.
The Nigerians wanted to redeem themselves and show that they were better than that -- and they did. They were well-organized, solid and restricted the French to the bare minimum until the hour mark. Their star striker, Asisat Oshoala, was not 100 percent either. They can still qualify as one of the best third-place teams, but they will need a bit of luck in the other games and results going their way.