France may have clinched a quarter-final place as UEFA Women's EURO 2013 Group C winners with a game to spare, but they have no intention of letting up against England in Linkoping on Thursday.
Two victories in Norrkoping – 3-1 against Russia and 1-0 last night against Spain – booked Les Bleues' progress, but have they taken a step forward, both psychologically and physically? The feeling among the players was that if they did not dominate against Spain, they at least kept them at bay, suffering few scares in the closing stages – an improvement on their seven consecutive draws in their build-up to the finals, often after conceding late.
"It's true that there were Spanish girls everywhere," said goalscorer Wendie Renard, who will celebrate her 23rd birthday on Saturday, two days before their quarter-final in Linkoping. "We had the feeling that the ball was burning our feet at the end and I think we gave a brave performance and we managed to keep the score as it was."
Gaëtane Thiney also liked France's attitude. "A goal in the last minute is always possible, but we managed to be strong defensively and not to concede," said the 27-year-old FCF Juvisy Essonne forward.
Les Bleues will soon be able to take advantage of their new-found serenity against England, who themselves have everything to play for. The good news for Russia and Spain is that France coach Bruno Bini will not be taking the game lightly against the side they beat on penalties in the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup quarter-finals, and drew twice with in the winter.
"The coach will decide the different goals in that game but I don't think I'm mistaken when I say that we're not here to distort the tournament," Thiney said. Renard added: "Even though we are top, we should take England seriously. They lost the first game and drew the second so they'll want some kind of revenge against us. They'll do everything to win, but we want to finish [the group] well."
The Olympique Lyonnais defender, who was excellent on Monday, gave a clue as to France's philosophy as they seek their first European semi-final, having reached that stage in the World Cup and Olympics. "There are no small nations, there are no big nations," Renard said. "For me, everyone's competing at the same level and the team who are the most serious and especially the most consistent will go all the way."
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