Les Bleues show their colours

Despite the cruel nature of their exit, France showed promise at UEFA WOMEN'S EURO 2005™.

By Christian Châtelet

France departed UEFA WOMEN'S EURO 2005™ on Sunday after a cruel 3-0 defeat by Germany in Warrington. But behind this result, coach Elisabeth Loisel and her players can take many positives.

Close competition
Like youthful hosts England and shock semi-finalists Finland, France demonstrated how much closer the competition is getting at each tournament as they narrowly missed pulling off a surprise. For the fourth time in a row since her appointment in 1997, Loisel has seen her team lose in a major finals group stage. But Les Bleues took both holders Germany and former world, Olympic and European title-holders Norway all the way.

Mixed feelings
After three early goals gave them a sometimes untidy but welcome 3-1 opening win against Italy, Les Bleues led Norway from the 20th to the 65th minute on Thursday before Isabell Herlovsen levelled for the two-time European champions. On Sunday, they held Germany for 71 minutes before conceding and allowing Norway to move through on goal difference. France thereby achieved their best overall performance in any UEFA European Women's Championship but also probably departed more disappointed than in their previous appearances.

Experience lacking
What were they missing then? Experience, the coach believes. "Germany proved in style how much more they had than us at this level," Loisel said. People in France will also speak for long time about Marinette Pichon's opportunity against Germany. With the game at 0-0, the striker who has scored more international goals than any other French player – male or female - with 74 to her name missed from two metres out.

Generations blended
But despite that painful memory, the good points cannot be denied. France's play was inspired, flowing and well-balanced, though could have been more clinical at crucial moments. In the build-up Loisel managed, through some fine friendly results, including two victories against Norway in February, to blend two generations of players.

Possible retirements
First, the older generation who have helped France into the world élite in recent years. While right-winger Stéphanie Mugneret-Béghé has said she will retire from the national team after 116 caps, midfield dynamo Sandrine Soubeyrand is keeping her options open, revealing: "I cannot say whether I will keep going or not." Pichon too has not yet confirmed whether she will follow Mugneret-Béghé out of the international game.

World Cup riddle
With 2007 FIFA Women's World Cup qualifying looming, and England in their group, France may well want to consider the problems their men's side have had since Zinedine Zidane, Lilian Thuram, Claude Makelele and others retired in July 2004. But should France lose some of their most experienced players, the next generation looks ready to take over.

Young talent
France finished their first match in England with seven players under the age of 22 on the pitch. Football increased in popularity with girls in France after the 1998 men's FIFA World Cup triumph, and that year also saw France reach the UEFA European Women's Under-18 Championship final.

Promising newcomers
Five years later they triumphed in the youth tournament, now an U19 event, and goalkeeper Sarah Bouhadd, midfielder Elise Bussaglia and striker Elodie Thomis were all in that squad. Along with playmaker Louisa Nécib, named Player of the Match against Germany on Sunday, they are the first fruits of a generation that seems even more powerful and talented than the previous one.