Now might be a good time to start buying some shares in the French. It was a bracingly chilly night on Australia’s south coast, and as France comfortably despatched the World Cup’s last African representatives there was a devastating coldness to their movements, the poise and purpose of a team beginning to move through the gears at just the right time.
Their quarter-final against the hosts at Brisbane on Saturday morning promises to be one of the defining games of this tournament, a tantalising collision of Aussie guts and French guile, a gourmet feast of titanic battles: Sam Kerr against Wendie Renard, Caitlin Foord against Eve Perisset, Eugenie Le Sommer against whoever has the misfortune of trying to work out where Eugenie Le Sommer is going.
And in the indomitable Kadidiatou Diani the French have perhaps the outstanding centre-forward of the competition so far: a creative as well as a goalscoring threat, a player who in her pace and workrate and efficiency and understanding of space encapsulates this team at their best. She scored the first goal and set up the next two. Le Sommer chipped in with two goals, and if Morocco could be proud of their progress to this point then there will also be a certain regret at the ease with which they allowed France through the door.
No alarms and no surprises, then, and precious little complacency either. Then again, in Hervé Renard they have a coach who knows more than most about the dangers of an unfancied African underdog. Whether with Zambia at the men’s 2012 Africa Cup of Nations or taking Morocco’s men to the 2018 World Cup, Renard has done his best work when the odds are stacked against him. And in a way perhaps something similar is happening here: melding and moulding a squad riven by internal wrangles in the build-up to this tournament, and largely written off as a result.
The matching 4-4-2 formations suited France’s superior individual ability perfectly, creating one-on-one battles all over the pitch. And with Renard able to rest players for France’s final group game perhaps there was a disparity in energy levels too, as Morocco looked a little jaded by their leviathan efforts against South Korea and Colombia. The aggressive counter-pressing that allowed them to control those games was just a little flatter here.
Then again, when France scythe their way through, it’s not entirely clear who is equipped to stop them. Diani’s goal came after a mesmerising lattice of passes down the left wing, the Morocco-born Sakina Karchaoui exchanging with Selma Bacha and putting in the cross for Diani. France have been this tournament’s most prolific crossing team, and here again their wingers and overlapping full-backs gave them multiple options on the flanks. In the centre they were marshalled by the excellent Grace Geyoro, locking things down in midfield, taking the ball under pressure and always doing something useful with it.