The answer wasn’t long in coming Friday, with Les Bleues scoring three times in the first half to bury South Korea 4-0, also burying, for the time being, any thoughts they would be overwhelmed by their circumstances.
The score matched the second-most one-sided result in a Women’s World Cup opener in history, topped only by Germany’s 11-0 win over Argentina in 2007. It was also one of the coldest openers, with a temperature at kickoff of 57 degrees and a windchill 11 degrees cooler.
But the team was both warmed and inspired by what happened just before the game started, with the sellout crowd of 45,261 at Parc des Princes rising as one to sing La Marseillaise.
It moved many of the players to tears.
“We knew it would be a very emotional evening. But we managed it well,” defender Wendie Renard said through an interpreter. “When more than 45,000 people are singing the French national anthem, it does drive you forward.”
Two hours later, after scoring on two first-half headers to lead her team’s victory, Renard walked off the field to a different kind of tribute, with French President Emmanuel Macron greeting her with a smile and a handshake.
“We really made the most of the crowd’s support,” she said
One person who refused to be caught up in the emotion was French coach Corinne Diacre, who was perhaps the lone voice warning that one victory, no matter how impressive, does not win a World Cup.
“I refused all emotions. I will let emotion affect me later in the competition,” she said. “We still haven’t won anything.”
Maybe not. But they’re off to a good start — and the domination was complete. South Korea was outshot 21-4, with France putting eight of its shots on target. On the other end, French keeper Sarah Bouhaddi never had to make a save.
“They are potential winners of the tournament,” said a humbled Yoon Duk-yeo, the South Korean coach. “They showed how strong they are.”
The only other time France hosted a World Cup in the modern era, in 1998, its men won the tournament, a victory that sent tens of thousands of Parisians flooding into the streets in celebration.
For the women “the ambitions are the same,” said captain Amandine Henry, who assisted on the first goal and scored the last Friday.
The circumstances, however, are not.
The men entered the 1998 tournament as longshots, narrowly won their first two knockout-round games — one in extra time and the other on penalty kicks — then stunned Brazil 3-0 in the final.
The women entered this tournament as co-favorites, alongside the U.S. And ever since the men won their second World Cup last summer in Russia, the spotlight on the women has burned even hotter, with 5 million people tuning in last month to watch the roster announcement on TV.
No country, as everyone in France now knows, has ever held the men’s and women’s titles at the same time. And the U.S., in 1999, is the only country to have won a Women’s World Cup it hosted.
“People expect and hope we follow in the footsteps of the men’s team,” Diacre said. “But it takes time.”
France wasted little time in getting started on that path, with Eugenie Le Sommer running on to a pass from Henry just outside the six-yard box and banging it in in the ninth minute. It was Le Sommer’s 11th goal in her last 11 games for France and the quickest ever in a Women’s World Cup opener.
France doubled the advantage in the 35th minute on Renard’s driving header off a Gaetane Thiney corner. Renard, at 6 feet 2 the tallest player in the tournament, scored again off an Amel Majri corner in the final seconds of first-half stoppage time to make it 3-0.
By the time the second half started, the anthem-singing French fans had grown so relaxed — and bored — they broke into the wave four times, stopping only to cheer the final goal, from Henry, on a right-footed shot that curled inside the far post in the 85th minute.