France kickstart World Cup campaign as Wendie Renard’s late header sinks Brazil

<span>Photograph: Chris Putnam/Shutterstock</span>” data-src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/5WBngIkvcILBfzufJK2MaA–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Nw–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/theguardian_763/396b8157b2a471abb8ac07622c67022f” src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/5WBngIkvcILBfzufJK2MaA–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Nw–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/theguardian_763/396b8157b2a471abb8ac07622c67022f”></img></p>
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<p><figcaption><span>Photograph: Chris Putnam/Shutterstock</span></figcaption></p>
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<p>The Brazilians have never beaten France in women’s football. Before their Women’s World Cup group stage clash in Brisbane, Australia, the record between the heavyweights read six wins to <em>Les Bleues</em> and five draws.</p>
<p>If that was ever to change, Saturday night’s encounter offered much promise. Brazil had been buoyed by a comfortable opening win over Panama, while the French struggled in a goalless draw with Jamaica, having earlier lost to co-hosts Australia in a pre-tournament warm-up. Brisbane Stadium might as well have been in Brazil – 49,378 predominantly yellow-clad fans cheering on the <em>Seleção</em>. All the pressure was on France in this crucial group stage clash.</p>
<p><span>Related: </span>France 2-1 Brazil: Women’s World Cup 2023 – as it happened</p>
<p>And how they responded. Inspired by the return of Selma Bacha, who had been injured against Australia two weeks ago, the French carved up Brazil on both flanks in the opening minutes. With pace and peerless passing football, the French created opportunity after opportunity against the stunned Brazilians.</p>
<p>On the 12-minute mark, Brazil’s goalkeeper Letícia had to dive to save a looping header from France’s attacking ace Eugénie Le Sommer. But it only delayed the inevitable. Minutes later, Sakina Karchaoui raked in a diagonal cross from the left, finding the head of Kadidiatou Diani in the Brazilian box. The PSG star, one of a number of players to exit the team in protest at the reign of Corinne Diacre, only returning following the appointment of Hervé Renard in March, nodded the ball skywards to Le Sommer. This time there was no stopping the French forward’s powerful goalbound header.</p>
<p>Brazil responded, finding vigour and verve in the middle of the park as the first half continued. But, try as they might, willed on by their raucous supporters, the Brazilians were unable to convert opportunities into an equaliser before half-time. A few shots were lobbed in the direction of Pauline Peyraud-Magnin, but nothing that would trouble the French custodian.</p>
<p>Following the break, the Brazilians seemed energised by whatever their Swedish manager Pia Sundhage said at half-time. But more possession failed to yield more opportunities, France soaking up the occasional foray forward by Brazil’s wide players. Then, suddenly, unexpectedly, the match was back level – Debinha with a perfectly timed run into the French box, the Kansas City striker showing brilliant poise to control the through-ball and then calmly fire past Peyraud-Magnin.</p>
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Debinha levelled the scores midway through the second half, but her goal was ultimately in vain. Photograph: Jono Searle/AAP

The equaliser opened up the match – both teams scrabbling frantically to take the advantage. France had the better of the chances, but almost every period of French possession would be answered with a swift Brazilian counter-attack. Back-and-forth, like a basketball game, until an injury to Brazil’s Lauren forced a sustained pause (she later returned to the field).

The frenetic energy resumed, although neither team looked likely to break the deadlock from open play. When the winning goal came in the 83rd minute, it was again a French header – Wendie Renard, the captain, connecting with a corner, nodding the ball into the turf with such force that it bounced past a diving Letícia.

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With minutes left on the clock, Sundhage rolled the dice – making three substitutions, including the iconic Marta, earning a huge roar from the partisan crowd in recognition of the legend’s historic sixth World Cup. But it was too little, too late as the French held on for yet another victory against the South Americans.

The France manager, Hervé Renard, was booked for some sideline antics late in the game, but had regained his composure by the time he fronted the press. “I was fully confident that they were going to pull it out of the bag this evening,” declared Renard, who at this tournament has become only the second-ever manager to have coached at both the men’s and women’s World Cup. “I knew they wanted to get back on track.”

Sundhage, meanwhile, expressed disappointment at her team’s failure to control possession. “We couldn’t make this a game where we play like the Brazilian style,” she said. The Brazil coach revealed that at half-time she had instructed her team: “Play more Brazilian, and complete passes!”

France’s win leaves them in the box seat to top Group F, but they will need to hold or beat Panama in Sydney on Wednesday to guarantee progression. Brazil, meanwhile, can still secure a last-16 place with victory over Jamaica in Melbourne. Should both teams get through the early phases of the knockouts, they could face each other again in the semi-finals. Another opportunity, perhaps, for Brazil to break this lingering French curse.

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