After strutting their stuff in Paris, France showed their gritty side in Nice as they grinded out a 2-1 win over their biggest rivals for Group A’s top spot, Norway.
Questioned in the build-up, Corinne Diacre’s tactical choices proved key as Valerie Gauvin came in for Delphine Cascarino to put on a tireless, high-pressing display in which she was handsomely rewarded with the opening goal.
And while their opening Women’s World Cup game was much easier on the eye, as they put South Korea to the sword in a 4-0 victory at the Parc des Princes , this was a victory over a strong side that will have pleased their manager in particular.
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Norway did not come into the game overawed by the occasion. With expectations heavily on the hosts, and any talk of Norway mainly focused away from this team and on the absence of Ada Hegerberg , they were underdogs and they relished it.
Guro Reiten, who started the tournament with a goal and an assist against Nigeria, was lively from the off, with both her and Karina Saevik, playing on the opposite flank, and both would force France’s full-backs into early errors.
Reiten’s cross found her team-mate’s run into the box from the right wing, but Saevik’s first time shot was wide of the target, just moments after Isabell Herlovsen worried the French by intercepting Griedge Mbock Bathy’s headed back-pass to Sarah Bouhaddi, but the goalkeeper did well to force her wide.
Saevik would dispossess Amel Majri too as Norway continued their energetic start, and the corner forced by Herlovsen would be directed goalwards by the head of Engen – but blocked by the head of Majri.
It was a wake-up call for the French, who were yet to arrive at their own party.
But the 34,872 waiting for them in the Allianz Riviera would eventually get the show they were here for – and Kadidiatou Diani was its star.
The Paris Saint Germain forward gave Kristine Minde a torrid time out wide, running at her with blistering pace and tricky feet at every opportunity, having moved out to the right-wing position with the inclusion of Gauvin in this line-up.
Most of her chances were created for the latter, who surprising started over Cascarino, but the striker struggled to connect properly with any of Diani’s first-half crosses.
She wasn’t the only one, however, with Diani perhaps too selfless in her play as she constantly looked for the cross rather than being more direct.
And while her running kept Norway on the back foot for the most part, the Scandinavians didn’t lack opportunities.
Ingrid Engen, in particular, had a superb game in the middle for Martin Sjogren’s side, linking defence to attack brilliantly and breaking up flurries forward from the French often.
It was her who created Norway’s next chance, linking up well with Minde and Reiten, only for Saevik to fire over, while the first half ended with Ingrid Moe Wold striking straight at Bouhaddi.
But if Sjogren’s side finished the opening period better, it meant nothing within seconds of the restart, as Gauvin arrived in perfect time to clinically sweep home the opening goal.
It could have been comfortable for France from there on. Majri was pulling out the tricks and bursting forward, showing just why she is played in a more attacking role for Lyon, with her back-heel teeing up Amandine Henry to cross for Gauvin, but the striker headed over.
It would be anything but comfortable though. Wendie Renard, hero in their first game thanks to her two headed goals , was on the scoresheet again – but for the wrong side.
A lack of communication between her and Majri resulted in the centre-back tapping the ball into her own net, when Herlovsen’s cross was about to run behind harmlessly for a goal-kick.
But if that was unfortunate, things balanced out for the French. Engen had got a toe on the ball when tackling Marion Torrent, but it was a clumsy challenge that caught the full-back high on the follow-up, and that is what referee Bibiana Steinhaus saw after watching it back.
VAR had denied Diacre’s side a goal last time out, but it would result in one this time, with Eugenie Le Sommer arrowing the spot-kick into the bottom corner with real conviction.
The remaining half hour was a test of character for France, and they passed it. While Norway tried desperately to get back into some of the attacking rhythms they enjoyed in the first half, Les Bleues stifled them brilliantly and showed few signs that they were ever going to crack under the pressure.
The Allianz Riviera was expecting; and France delivered. Another three points should seal top spot for them, albeit that doesn’t mean much in Group A.
While the runners-up are likely to take on Australia or Brazil, then England, the winners will meet reigning champions USA in the quarter-finals, if everything goes as expected.
But that won’t faze Diacre’s team. They showed their style against South Korea, and their strong mentality against Norway.
Both qualities are what a team needs to be world champions.