How the Matildas can beat France for a shot at the World Cup semi-final

The Matildas will have to be at their united best to overcome world No.5 France.

The Matildas will have to be at their united best to overcome world No.5 France. Photo: Getty

Daring to dream, the indomitable Matildas are bidding to create their own history in the FIFA Women’s World Cup quarter-final on Saturday night in Brisbane.

But France, an imposing opponent, stands in their way with the famous Gallic flair and a star-studded squad on a mission of their own threatening to halt the juggernaut that has captured the hearts and minds of Australian fans over the past three weeks.

Australia has never advanced past the quarter-finals at a World Cup [in three previous attempts in 2007, 2011 and 2015], but it also has never played the tournament in front of its adoring fans.

About 50,000 in the stadium and millions more in homes across the nation and at fan zones will be willing on the Matildas into the next stage, and their support – often referred to by coaches as their 12th player – could be crucial in extracting that magic, be it a spectacular save, mesmerising goal, defence-splitting pass or last-ditch tackle.

The noise created by adoring Matildas fans can help create an advantage. Photo: Getty

The French have reached the quarter-final on three previous occasions, but have progressed only once – in 2011 in Germany before losing in the semi-final against the United States.

Given the quality, depth in its ranks and its proud footballing history, France will likely feel the pressure to perform as much as the Matildas.

The Euros 2022 semi-finalists scored a remarkable 54 goals and conceded only four in its 10 UEFA qualifying matches. But facing the likes of Wales, Slovenia, Greece, Estonia and Kazakhstan is an entirely different proposition to encountering the Matildas on home soil.

The form

Mary Fowler scored the winner in Melbourne last month.

The most recent meeting between the nations was the Matildas’ send-off match in July in which Australia prevailed 1-0 in Melbourne, but much has changed since that confidence-boosting friendly.

After being frustrated in the opening 0-0 draw with Jamaica’s Reggae Girlz in Group F, the world No.5 French rebounded with a 2-1 victory against Brazil, before stamping their class in the 6-3 win over Panama.

Ominously, their most complete performance arrived in the Round of 16 clash against Morocco in Adelaide, where the match was as good as over within 25 minutes.

Fortune favours the brave

The intensity will go up a notch, which is where the Matildas’ renowned never-say-die spirit, physicality and fitness will come to the fore.

Reaching the quarter-finals without talismanic captain Sam Kerr shows the Australians have adapted under pressure and highlighted their tactical versatility.

It’s imperative the Matildas continue to play to their strengths, restrict opportunities, and remain patient.

But an extra dimension of quality – and perhaps a dose of good luck – could be necessary to overcome the all-round talents of Les Bleues.

Protect the space

The movement and quality of Kadidiatou Diani and Eugenie Le Sommer will test the Australian defence in Brisbane. Photo: Getty

The game IQ of France’s leading all-time scorer Eugenie Le Sommer (No.9) means she must be shut down at all costs.

Equally at home as an attacking midfielder or as a second forward, the 34-year-old Lyon star has a knack of finding space between the midfield and defence, creating a corridor of uncertainty that her teammates can then exploit.

And if and when opportunities arise, she usually provides a clinical finish – scoring 92 goals in 182 internationals, including three at this tournament.

Katrina Gorry and Kyra Cooney-Cross will have their hands full for 90-plus minutes in protecting their defence, but much of Les Bleues’ threat will be blunted if they can negate the influence of Le Sommer.

Left turn

The forays down the left flank by France’s Sakina Karchaoui are another danger zone to be protected. Photo: Getty

Just as Steph Catley and Caitlin Foord have worked wonders in attack for the Matildas down the left flank, Les Bleues have an equally impressive duo.

Sakina Karchaoui (No.7) and Selma Bacha (No.13) were impressive in the 4-0 quarter-final demolition of Morocco and will give right back Ellie Carpenter the sternest test of her tournament.

Fortunately, the 23-year-old Carpenter will be well placed to counter their effect, having been teammates with both at Olympique Lyonnais.

Win this battle and it could help Australia win the war to reach Wednesday night’s semi-final at Stadium Australia in Sydney.

Blue streak

Creating attention for all the right reasons, Kadidiatou Diani (No.11) has scored four goals in the past two games and looms as another major challenge for the Australian defence.

One of the most recognisable players on the field with her distinct blue hair, Diani showed off her all-round game as scorer and creator against Morocco in Adelaide as she used her speed, dynamism and aerial ability to maximum effect.

Needless to say, Clare Hunt, Alanna Kennedy and Clare Polkinghorne cannot give Diani any space or time on the ball, or they risk suffering the consequences for the next four years.

Keep ’em guessing

How coach Tony Gustavsson uses Sam Kerr could go a long way towards deciding the outcome of the game. Photo: Getty

Just as his players must rise to the challenge in the most important match of their lives do far, Australian coach Tony Gustavsson must also be astute in his planning and decisions.

In the experienced but volatile Herve Renard, the Swede has a shrewd opponent whose stirring pre-match addresses and tactical prowess have been deployed successfully across the world.

Not only was he the first manager to win the African Cup of Nations with different nations (Zambia in 2012, Ivory Coast in 2015), Renard also has coached at men’s World Cups (2018 with Morocco, 2022 with Saudi Arabia) the latter in which he guided the Saudis to an opening match upset against eventual winners Argentina in Qatar.

Toying with the temptation of starting captain Sam Kerr could be as instrumental to upsetting the Frenchman’s mindset as any changes to the Matildas’ line-up, formation tweaks, or utilising his yet-unused ‘‘game changers’’ as substitutes.

Meet the press

French captain Wendie Renard will be hoping to rally her side’s defence. Photo: Getty

The tallest outfield player at the Women’s World Cup, Wendie Renard at 1.87 metres continues to lead France by example.

A composed and authoritative presence in defence, Renard (No.3) is also an ever-present danger at set pieces and rescued the win for France against Brazil with a trademark header – after scoring four times at her home World Cup in 2019.

Much of the play is channelled through Renard, but the fact the French conceded three goals against lowly Panama shows there are vulnerabilities in the defence.

Hayley Raso’s pressing could force mistakes in the French defence. Photo: Getty

A high-pressing strategy led by Hayley Raso and Caitlin Foord could force errors, allowing Mary Fowler and Sam Kerr the half-chances to apply the finishing touch that could turn the match.

Likewise, the Matildas’ speedy counterattacks could also catch out the French when they least expect it.

The Matildas play France at 5pm on Saturday in Brisbane. It will be screened on Channel 7, 7plus and Optus Sport

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