France v South Africa, January 2017
On January 22nd, France played South Africa in France. Instead of dismantling a team ranked 51st by Fifa, however, France barely managed a win. France’s inability to score has been a concern since early 2016, but this first match of the season showed little sign in that changing. Although a skeptic might point out that the 2–0 scoreline stands in France’s favour, I want to draw attention to the wide gulf that divides these teams. France is considered far superior, and yet — their win was never certain during any part of the match.
To start off with, France’s lineup showed some much needed changes. Olivier Echouafni decided to start the Montpellier defender Sakina Karchaoui as a right back, and putting Lyon’s defender/midfielder Amel Majriin an attack position — both of these changes were welcomed. Majriin, especially, had a very promising impact on the game.
Although both Echouafni and the French commentators of the game look towards stars like Abily and Le Sommer to score goals, the player of this match was definitely Griedge Mbock. Playing incredibly high, the 21 year old defender was able to step up and create a strong presence in the box, scoring a brace. It does make one wonder why Echouafni is either wasting her talent in the backline; she has an amazing nose around the box, and that is something this French team sorely needs. There needs to be either a re-thinking of the strikers, or a new approach to training, since this game showed strikers in need of help. They couldn’t complete their attacking maneuvers, and convert possession into a clean and easy victory. There were times in the game (such as minute 45) when players (in this case Diani) were 1v1 with the goalkeeper, but unable to make a decision in the split-second needed, and thus lost the opportunity.
France’s failing isn’t only its failing strikers — there is also the notable absense of a dynamic midfield. As I said in my article about France’s November game against Spain — a key issue with France is that they’re not mobilizing their midfield. The ball is going from defense to forwards, with no buildup, or subtlety. If France wants to have a chance at beating Germany in this summer’s UEFA tournament, they need to really get this under control.
The game was a success for the South African women, who managed to lose the game with only two goals against, even though most of the game was played in their defensive third. This success is attributed to their backline and midfield, who each managed to put pressure on French players, and disrupt attacking maneuvers and prevent anything happening with the French possession. Special shout out to Gloria Thato, who played some awesome defense, with some beautiful clean tackles of which Becky Sauerbrunn would have been proud.