France came into Euro 2022 this summer as both the second highest ranked team in the tournament and yet also with a tag as the perennial underachievers.
Prior to Saturday’s tense extra-time win over Netherlands, France had exited five consecutive major tournaments at the quarter-final stage – two World Cups, two European Championships and one Olympics – between 2013 and 2021.
Les Bleues had got to the semi-finals at the World Cup in 2011 and the Olympics in 2012, finishing fourth both times, but until now had never won a single knockout game at the Euros. Three successive group stage eliminations came at their first three appearances from 1997 to 2005, followed by quarter-final exits in each of the last three since 2009.
Regardless of the clear talent in the French squad, it remained the big cloud hanging over them this summer because previous generations of world class stars had already failed.
France coach Corinne Diacre made potentially risky changes this summer, leaving out established veteran stars Amandine Henry and Eugenie Le Sommer in favour of newer young talent. The loss of prolific striker Marie-Antoinette Katoto to an ACL injury during the group stage was a huge blow, but the squad has the depth to go on, while there is added motivation to keep fighting for her.
There were moments during the quarter-final when worries started to creep in. France were by far the better team on the night but couldn’t find a way past heroic Dutch goalkeeper Daphne van Domselaar – on the two occasions they did beat Van Domselaar in normal time, Stefanie van der Gragt was in the perfect place to clear off the goal-line.
The longer France didn’t take the lead their dominance deserved, the greater the possibility that Netherlands could have gone to the other end and snatched it. Eventually, a penalty that needed a VAR review to award it and that Van Domselaar almost reached was the decisive factor.
“We have been rewarded for our effort,” Diacre commented afterwards.
“We are here to build history – the players and staff want to make history for ourselves and there is still a bit of a way to go. We have reached a new level but that is not the end for us, we really want to reach the final. This squad wants to achieve something together, and that is our strength.”