France's Women's World Cup run again ends in heartbreak
PARIS -- For a long time, they stayed on the pitch. They looked lost. Incredulous. The World Cup is over for the French players. And they can hardly believe it.
Around them, the Parc des Princes was emptying. Tears wouldn't stop dripping down Marion Torrent's cheeks. She was one of the first back in the dressing room and sat alongside her Montpellier teammate and best friend Sakina Karchaoui, who was crying as well despite not playing a single minute Friday night as France lost to the United States 2-1 in the quarterfinals.
Still outside on the pitch, Eugenie Le Sommer couldn't stop crying either. Even her boyfriend, Florian, couldn't comfort her. This defeat against the U.S. will hurt for a long time. In the dressing room, there was not a word. It was silent. Everyone was clearly still shocked.
Facing the Americans was always going to be a tough task. Yet Les Bleues really felt the world champions were there for the taking, that they could have knocked them out and reached the semifinals.
"You can't have any regrets," Corinne Diacre told her players in the dressing room after the game, according to sources. "You gave your all tonight. You were not far from the Americans and you won over the hearts of a lot of fans."
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Instead of celebrating a qualification for the semis, the French players will struggle to recover from another disappointment at this stage of a major tournament. For the fifth time in a row, they did not make it to the last four.
In the corner of the dressing room, the white teddy bear, the team's lucky charm since the start of the competition, also seemed sad with his blue shirt and his French flag. It felt like a funeral. There was clearly a lot of frustration, sadness and disappointment.
Before lunch on Friday, Noel Le Graet, the president of the French FA, paid the team a visit at their headquarters in Clairefontaine for encouragement and support.
"I want to congratulate you for the work you are doing," he told the players, according to sources. "Everyone wants to see a great performance from you tonight. There is no pressure to have. I want confident players. You have all played big games in your life. The fans are behind you. You will have to be strong mentally. I know you want to win. I respect you so much and the whole country too. France is behind you. It will give you wings. I have so much faith in you. I know you will win tonight."
When the bus left at 6 p.m. French time, the team had just their team meeting. Diacre told her players they could write their names in French football history by beating the USA. The players were full of optimism. Once they arrived at the Parc des Princes, they looked focused but relaxed. In the dressing room, next to the teddy bear, there was a photo of France and the U.S. lining up before their SheBelieves Cup match in March 2018, a 1-1 draw. Diacre wanted to see it as a good omen.
Alas, her players were not able to recreate the same performance Friday.
"It is really hard to deal with," Le Sommer told ESPNFC after the game in the mixed zone. "I am so disappointed for the team. We competed with them, but in big tournaments they are always above us. We can be proud of what we achieved, but actually it is not enough."
Their frustration comes from a very early goal when France switched off Megan Rapinoe's quickly-taken throw-in to Alex Morgan, who drove down the left side and was taken down by Griedge Mbock Bathy. The U.S. were awarded a free kick, and Rapinoe scored in the fifth minute to give the U.S. a 1-0 lead.
France also felt they should have been more clinical in the last 30 yards of the pitch, where it matters the most. They didn't create enough danger and didn't put the U.S. under enough pressure. Their first attempt on target was in the 63rd minute.
And Les Bleues felt harshly done by the referees' decision to not use video assistant referee technology when Amel Majri's cross in the 86th minute hit off Kelley O'Hara's arm in the box. Though a yellow card and free kick were awarded, penalties have been given for less in this competition.
"I don't want to dwell on the potential penalty, but in 2015, we were knocked out by Germany over a litigious decision too," Le Sommer said. "It never goes our way."
Le Sommer, of course, refers to the dodgy penalty four years ago that Germany were awarded in the 86th minute in the quarters. Germany evened the game before winning in penalties.
On Friday night, she was so frustrated, but quite resigned as well. Like many of her teammates, she left the Parc des Princes with her head down and wondering what could have been.
Soon, it will be the time to look into more details into what went wrong. Diacre's coaching, her difficult relationship with Wendie Renard, her lack of a Plan B.
"I still have a lot to learn," Diacre told the media after the game.
For now though, it is the time for regrets. This is a scar that will take a long time to heal.