This is the moment they have been waiting for. It’s been three years since their quarterfinal heartbreak against the US at the 2019 World Cup. It’s been five years since they lost at the same stage in the 2017 Euros, falling to England 1-0, and six years when their Olympic dream ended there against Canada in Rio de Janeiro. It’s been seven years since another disappointing exit in the last eight against Germany at the 2015 World Cup, and nine years since their difficult defeat to Denmark on penalties at Euro 2013.
They have been waiting for 10 years now for a semifinal, following a decade in which the quarters have been their ceiling. It’s become the moment their dreams of victory disappear and their holidays start. This year, they’ve had enough now. The captain, Wendie Renard, got really frustrated after the last game of the group stage against Iceland (a 1-1 draw) when asked again about this curse. “You [the media] keep going on and on about it to us! We will hear all again this week “she said, with some justifiable tones of anger in her voice.
The entire France camp feels the same, and the players have spoken a lot about it between themselves. The dominant theme of their conversations is simple: “This is our turn to change the narrative and the history.”
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Most of the squad’s veterans were present and played through some of these disappointments, but they all know about them, even if they were not involved. There were penalty shootout losses against Denmark (2013) or Germany (2015), and a string of narrow, one-goal defeats in which they played well, but not well enough (Canada 2016, England 2017 and the US in 2019). Renard herself (134 career caps) spoke about it before the tournament.
“We haven’t been further than the quarterfinals because we, players, didn’t deliver as we should have or were unlucky,” she told UEFA.com. “However, we should keep persevering now. Some players and nations went through tough periods for many years before claiming a trophy and moving up a notch. I hope it will be our turn this year, but once again, it will all depend on us “
Corinne Diacre, Les Bleues‘ head coach, was only in charge for the 2019 game against the Americans, but she knows her prematch talk will be an easy one to write. Make history. The last time France made it to the semifinals was also in England, at the 2012 Olympic Games, and many in the camp see that as a sign. The French also beat the Dutch (3-1) in their last encounter, back in February, in a friendly.
Yet there’s also a feeling within the France HQ that there’s also no need to dramatise Saturday’s game too much. It’s a huge occasion, of course, and this is a team with the talent, collective spirit and potential to reach the last four. And while 10 years might feel like a long time to wait, it’s also not that long. Look at Mexico’s men’s team and their curse of the World Cup last-16 — the quinto partido. For seven tournaments in a row (1994-2018), they’ve failed to go beyond the last 16 and qualify for the quarterfinals. That’s a 36 year wait. As a country, they are obsessed by the “fifth match” at the World Cup.
For Renard & Co., it’s different. They don’t want to put too much pressure on this curse because that’s typically how they would end up failing again. At the 2019 World Cup on home soil, they certainly made that mistake. Before facing the US at the Parc des Princes in Paris, all the talk was centered on this “curse” and even though Megan Rapinoe and her teammates were too good for them on the day, it’s fair to say the tournament hosts also crumpled under the pressure.
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In the same way, the younger generation — players like Delphine Cascarino, Sandy Baltimore or Melvine Malard — don’t carry the same scars. They have not been there so many times before, and it would be a mistake to cloud their minds too much, with bad memories from the past, before such a big game.
All of which means that Diacre, Renard and the rest of the squad have a thin line to walk. The right approach and right headspace could play a big part in the result of this game against the Netherlands. If they’ve truly learned from their mistakes before and during past quarterfinals, they will have the chance to finally make it to the final four.