In a contest most considered a World Cup final played as a quarterfinal, No. 1 Germany and No. 3 France clashed Friday evening at Olympic Stadium in Montreal with one common goal but two different agendas.
After falling in the quarterfinals to eventual champion Japan on home soil in the last Women’s World Cup, Germany entered the match-up with its eyes set on retaining its World Cup crown.
France came into the game looking to erase its stigma as talented underachievers and defeat a European rival that has dominated it for so long in the process. Unfortunately for Les Bleues, that underachievers label was taken to new heights as they fell to Germany on penalty kicks, 5-4, after a 1-1 tie through 120 minutes.
For as impressive Germany was in holding its nerve to advance, the story of the game was not how the Germans persevered through adversity. It was how France lost.
Les Bleues looked quicker, faster and flat out better for long portions of the match against an opponent that, for so long, had run circles around them. But despite having a 24-17 advantage in shots and appearing to be the superior side, missed chances — lots of them were France’s undoing.
“It’s just a reflection of life — there are lots of success and just as many failures,” French coach Philippe Bergeroo said postgame. “… We dominated, but didn’t win. I find it very hard to explain. It’s very complicated tonight. We had so many chances and had to put them in and we didn’t do that.”
One of those missed chances came in the opening minute.
After gliding past her defender down the right flank, Elodie Thomis whipped a cross perfectly into the path of star midfielder Louisa Necib. Necib seemed destined to put Les Blues ahead and score her first-ever World Cup goal but instead sent the first-time finish just wide of the near post.
But Les Bleues continued to pile on the pressure with Necib dominating the midfield and the pace of Thomis and forward Marie-Laure Delie giving Germany’s slow backline plenty of headaches.
Not even the halftime substitution of Germany’s own star midfield prodigy Dzsenifer Marozsan was enough to mitigate France’s dominance.
All that was missing was a goal from Les Bleues which Necib finally delivered in the 64th minute.
The chance came off a poor clearance from the German backline which landed to Necib. Then, without hesitation, the “female Zidane” struck a shot from beyond the 18-yard-box that, with a little help from a deflection, placed itself perfectly into the left corner of the goal.
“I was worried, above all when they went 1-0 up,” said Germany head coach Silvia Neid. “I did still have hope that we could turn it around. But I didn’t feel so certain enough to say, ‘We’ll make it.’”
Those fears were evident in the German coach’s irritated facial expressions throughout the game but those spirits were lifted slightly when a cross from defender Leonie Maier struck France defender Amel Majri on the hand for a penalty kick.
Celia Sasic then promptly buried the spot-kick for her tournament-leading sixth goal to tie the game, 1-1, in the 84th minute to bring Germany back from the dead.
From there, France imploded as only France could, with some players shown crying as the team’s prepped for extra-time.
The icing on the cake came in the final moments of stoppage time. Following a nice give-and-go down the right flank, a curling cross to the back post found substitute forward Gaëtane Thiney alone inside the penalty area. With the entire goal at her mercy, Thiney scuffed the shot off her leg wide of the net for the most shocking and biggest miss of the tournament and one the 29-year-old will likely have nightmares about.
Extra time concluded moments later, yet it was clear the moment had become too big for Les Bleues.
Germany proceeded to score all five of its penalty kicks with each shot more impressive than the last.
To France’s credit, it responded by hitting its first four but 21-year-old midfielder Claire Lavogez’s weak shot was all it took to send Les Bleues home with an all too familiar bitter taste in their mouth.
“We have huge regrets,” Bergeroo said. “This game was lost long before the penalties, due to us missing those chances earlier on.”
Next up: Despite this game displaying the talent, electricity and theatre typical of a World Cup final, Germany still has two games remaining before it can claim the World Cup trophy. The first of which will be its toughest challenge in the United States, with the top two teams in the world meeting June 30 at Olympic Stadium in Montreal.
Germany vs. France
June 26, 2015 — Olympic Stadium, Montreal
Scoring by Period 1 2 F
Germany 0 1 1
France 0 1 1
FRA: Louisa Necib 64’
GER: Celia Sasic 84’ (penalty kick)
GER: Anja Mittag (Caution) 37’
FRA: Marie-Laure Delie (Caution) 55’
FRA: Laura Georges (Caution) 57’
GER: Lena Goessling (Caution) 68’
GER: Dzsenifer Marozan (Caution) 68’
GER: Melanie Leupolz (Caution) 91’
FRA: Sarah Bouhaddi, Wendie Renard, Amel Majri, Laura Georges, Amandine Henry, Jessica Houara, Eugenie Le Sommer (Gaetane Thiney, 90’), Camille Abily, Elodie Thomis (Claire Lavogez, 69’), Louisa Necib, Marie-Laure Delie (Kheira Hamraoui, 101’)
GER: Nadine Angerer, Leonie Maier, Annike Krahn, Tabea Kemme, Babett Peter, Simone Laudehr, Anja Mittag (Dzsenifer Marozan, 45’),Melanie Leupolz, Celia Sasic, Alexandra Popp (Sara Dabritz 70’), Lena Goessling (Melanie Behringer, 79’)