When France coach Bruno Bini stands before his 23 players to read out the starting XI for today's Group C meeting with Russia, more than half of them will be disappointed. Instead of lining up on the pitch, it is the bench that beckons – so how do they cope with being left out?
"That doesn't scare me," says Eugénie Le Sommer, who faces competition from Élodie Thomis, Marie-Laure Delie and Gaëtane Thiney up front. "If I start, good for me. If I'm a substitute, never mind; I'll do everything I can when I get to go on. We try to support the starting girls when they do well and stay behind them when they're not doing so well. We try to show we're here, that they're not alone."
Ophélie Meilleroux feels the same way. She has won 67 caps for Les Bleues since 2003 but lost her starting berth following a knee problem. "I'm just back from six months away injured, so I know I'm a substitute here," she says. "[Bini] hasn't laid down a clear hierarchy, but we all know it."
Indeed, Laura Georges and Wendie Renard now look to be unmovable rocks at the heart of the French rearguard. "We are all competitors and everybody wants to play and start," adds Meilleroux, 29. "Unfortunately, there can only be 11 on the pitch and you have to accept it. You have to be there for your friends. There are 23 of us in this adventure and even if some of them play more than others, the squad is always stronger. We know that one without the other is nothing."
How, then, does a player on the sidelines go about changing the mind of the chief decision-maker? "We work hard in training," says Meilleroux. Players further forward have another option, of course, and it was one exploited fully by Le Sommer during UEFA Women's EURO 2013 qualifying. The Olympique Lyonnais forward finished France's top scorer on the road to Sweden with seven goals, notching the first two as a substitute to finish the campaign as a starter. Not surprisingly, she rejects the idea that she is a secret weapon when all else has failed.
"I'm not France's supersub," says the 24-year-old, who has racked up 26 efforts in 74 games for her country. "I think a supersub is someone who makes the difference when they come on. It can happen to me sometimes, but I don't consider myself a supersub because I want to prove I can play from the start and contribute to the team for the whole game."
She did just that with five strikes in five starts after being handed a place in the first XI during qualifying, but she may have to prove herself all over again. "I hope to play as much as possible", says the two-time UEFA Women's Champions League winner. "I have more experience than in 2009 [for the UEFA Women's EURO in Finland] and in the four years since then I've played a lot of games. I've added lots of experience and that's allowed me to stake a claim to a spot in the starting XI." Whether Bini sees things the same way will soon become clear.
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