France 4-0 South Korea
It was all about the home side in the opener of the 2019 World Cup. France came out the gate explosive and attacking in an electric first stand at the Parc des Princes, netting four goals (five if you choose to blithely ignore VAR intervention) in front of a sellout crowd. Although it wasn't the most evenly matched first outing, Les Bleues thrilled with flair, speed and, of course, goal after goal, setting the standard for tournament performances high. If today's giddying 90 minutes were any indication, we're in for an extremely fun few weeks here.
What We Learned:
- The Word of the Day for France is confidence. Home nation advantage or not, Les Bleues have come out of the gate looking so self-assured, you'd think they were a mediocre white man running for President. May we all have the nerves of Griedge Mbock Bathy, a center back, who ends up with the ball in front of the net and thinks, "You know what? I'm gonna try and bicycle this in." Sadly, the bike didn't work in Mbock Bathy’s favor, but her creativity and technique still impressed. The whole squad played powerful, well-paced attacking football and asserted themselves quickly as a side to beat.
- VAR is bad, actually. We got our first proper opportunity at revisiting The VAR Discourse during this World Cup in the first half, and we will likely revisit it again and again. Just minutes after boldly attempting a bicycle kick in front of the goal, Mbock Bathy landed a gorgeous, clinical volley into the corner of the net. A VAR review was called, and it was revealed that Mbock Bathy was just barely offside, recalling the goal. The Parc des Princes erupted in boos. Soccer Twitter erupted in boos. And we are left to wonder if ensuring fairness and the closest possible adherence to the rules of the game is worth it if it means losing out on memorable moments like that one. The collective answer will probably change several more times throughout the group stage alone.
- Ji So-yun can’t do it alone: Fans wanted to see more from South Korea’s marquee player, but she could barely get on the ball tonight, and when she did, Les Bleues shut it down like small-town cops at a keg party. She needs stronger support from the rest of the side if she's going to be free to do what Ji So-yun does best.
- WENDIE. RENARD. : People who have been following women's soccer for a long time must be feeling extremely pleased with themselves today, because they were stanning Wendie Renard before it was cool. A powerful, versatile center back, Renard scored a pair of sailing headers to punctuate Les Bleues' early lead. And with France holding the upper hand (er, foot) the bulk of the match and the Taegeuk Ladies' attack remaining relatively immobile until significantly through the second half, we have yet to see all Renard can do as a defender. There's more Wendie Renard to come, and we cannot wait.
- Delphine Cascarino: You may not have even known Delphine Cascarino was on the pitch at first because all you would have been able to see of her is a ball engulfed in flames. While South Korea's defense worked the middle, Cascarino capitalized on their vulnerability on the wings and dominated the right side with bursts of speed, winning a number of corners along the way and connecting well with Marion Torrent.
- Lee Min-a: The Kobe Leonessa midfielder came on as a second-half substitute after the Taegeuk Ladies were out-posessed, outshot and outmatched by France. Her presence on the pitch was a bright spot in a disappointing opener for South Korea, as she created their attack's strongest chance and gave her side a much needed change in momentum in their favor. Yoon Deok-yo would do well in listening to the Monday Morning Managers on Twitter and giving her the start against Nigeria.
- France eased off the gas a little bit in the second half but skipper Amandine Henry still showed up to deliver a final blow. The balance between "easing off" and "getting too comfortable" is an extremely delicate one, and one they must be sure they have. Their biggest group stage test comes next Wednesday against an Ada Hegerberg-less-but-nonetheless-still-formidable Norway, but after today, if they can stay fit and focused, it doesn't really look like they’ll face much resistance in the group, if not beyond.
- South Korea came into the tournament with issues, most notably their top two choices for goalkeeper out on injury. They certainly have a more difficult road ahead, coming out of their first match with a loss and a -4 goal differential to make up, and tough draws against Nigeria and Norway. If they can organize their midfield to better connect with Ji and start Lee Min-a, they may be able to make up some of the deficit on Wednesday against the Super Falcons.
- The goal celebration music at the Parc des Princes was the iconic hook from Gala’s "Freed From Desire," which is super fitting (you may recognize it from this). Your defense is terrified. You should also be terrified of France's defenders.
- Shoutout to Les Dégommeuses, a Paris-based soccer team and organization comprised predominantly of lesbian and queer women players, working to promote LGBTQ+ visibility and acceptance in sport. Members of Les Dégommeuses displayed a rainbow flag tifo to protest the French Football Federation's aggressive gendering of the game and to encourage queer visibility in French football, especially in a tournament with so many popular out athletes, from Megan Rapinoe to Sam Kerr.
- Jeers to Real Madrid for announcing the signing of Eden Hazard less than an hour before kickoff. If a women's team tried this, it would just be bad marketing, but it also feels insulting. No one cares about your thing right now!
Up Next in Group Play
Saturday June 8
- Germany vs. China - 9:00 AM Eastern (FS1)
- Spain vs. South Africa - 12:00 PM Eastern (Fox)
- Norway vs. Nigeria - 3:00 PM Eastern (Fox)
Sunday June 9
- Australia vs. Italy - 7:00 AM Eastern (FS1)
- Brazil vs. Jamaica - 9:30 AM Eastern (FS1)
- England vs. Scotland - 12:00 PM Eastern (Fox)