It’s not like France is a massive underdog for Friday’s World Cup quarterfinal against the United States. As of early Thursday morning, online bookmaker Pinnacle had set the hosts’ odds of advancement at +139, an implied probability of about 42 percent. But still, a cheeky French reporter ran a somewhat novel idea past a few U.S. players during a news conference this week: Maybe the three-time World Cup champion Americans simply could “let” the French win.
Obviously, Team USA isn’t about to concede victory, but the Americans still will have their hands full Friday with a team that hasn’t lost an international match since February. Here’s a look at the French players who could give them trouble.
Wendie Renard, defender
Entering the World Cup, France’s former captain had not scored in international play since 2017, but she has tallied a team-high three goals through four games. She also put one into her own net against Norway and missed a penalty kick against Nigeria (though she got another chance thanks to VAR and converted it). Unsurprisingly from the tournament’s tallest player at 6 feet 2, two of the goals came off her head on corner kicks, so the Americans will have to keep her well marked on such set pieces.
On defense, Renard spearheads a unit — fellow center back Griedge Mbock Bathy, left back Amel Majri and goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi are the others — that has cohered thanks to the fact that they also all play together for French club Lyon.
“It’s as if they don’t need to speak to know what the other is going to do,” Ada Hegerberg, the Norwegian star who is sitting out the World Cup in protest and also plays for Lyon, wrote earlier this month about Renard and Mbock in France Football. “What characterizes them is the speed with which they challenge opponents and the care they take to quickly and effectively pass to the forwards. They are so technically sound but also have the ability to accelerate the team’s rhythm when they get involved in the attack.”
Eugenie Le Sommer, forward
A veteran of the French national team since 2009, the 30-year-old Le Sommer is playing in her third World Cup — she’s also seen action in two European Championships and two Olympics — and has scored twice so far in this tournament. She’s six goals shy of passing Marinette Pichon on France’s all-time goal-scoring list.
Le Sommer’s tournament-opening goal against South Korea was part of a trend, considering she’s scored a goal in France’s opening match in five straight tournaments.
“It doesn’t surprise me,” Jessica Houara-d’Hommeaux, a former France and Lyon teammate of Le Sommer’s who’s now a TV pundit with Canal Plus, told FIFA after the South Korea match. “It just shows how consistent she is, especially her mental quality, because we know how difficult it can be to make your return a tournament, even more so when it’s at home. She’s a formidable goal scorer.”
Amandine Henry, midfielder
France is in this position in great part because of its captain’s late-game heroics in the round of 16 against Brazil, as she slipped behind the defense to score and give the hosts a 2-1 victory late in extra time.
It will be Henry’s job to keep her teammates focused on the field as they look to avoid the mental lapses that have plagued them throughout the tournament.
“She’s fantastic, I consider her one of the best players in the world,” U.S. midfielder Tobin Heath, who played alongside Henry with the NWSL’s Portland Thorns in 2016-17, said earlier this week. “She has this competitiveness that is really what I am used to. She is a natural leader and they are lucky to have her as their captain.”
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