9 June 2020 – Sunday (7 June 2020) marked exactly one when the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019™ got off to an exuberant, eye-catching start with a resounding 4-0 victory for the hosts over Korea Republic at Parc des Princes in Paris.
To mark the first anniversary of the kick-off of what the FIFA Technical Study Group described as the “best Women’s World Cup seen to date”, France coach Corinne Diacre granted an exclusive interview to FIFA.com, during which she shared her thoughts on France’s campaign, the unprecedented enthusiasm shown by the general public and the media for a record-breaking tournament, and her record at the helm of Les Bleues.
FIFA.com: Corinne, do you remember what your state of mind was one year ago?
Corinne Diacre: Everyone was just keen for the tournament to start. We’d begun our preparations at the beginning of May, so the girls were simply eager to get down to business. There were no nerves, really, but there was a sense of anticipation and desire.
Were you satisfied with your team’s opening match against Korea Republic?
To be completely honest, it went above and beyond what I was expecting. We were already leading 3-0 at half-time – the match was pretty much wrapped up. After five to ten minutes of hesitation, my players began to show what they were capable of, and to perform effectively. And with such a big crowd behind us and creating such a great atmosphere, the desire to do well was multiplied.
What was your experience of that fervour and excitement?
France’s women’s team are accustomed to performing in front of 20,000 to 25,000 fans, depending on the size of the stadium. But playing in a packed Parc des Princes, and seeing all the people milling about as the bus arrived, with French flags everywhere, was incredible, quite simply. We’d dreamed about it while watching the men’s team on TV, and our dream became a reality. It gave us a real boost.
The Round-of-16 clash with Brazil was highly competitive. Did you expect such a battle?
Yes, absolutely. Brazil have a lot of qualities, with some star players, and they never miss out on a major international tournament. We put in a great performance to knock them out, but at the same time it was quite frustrating to have to play them as early as the last 16. It came about because they finished third in their group. That happens sometimes in a tournament, but it didn’t make our task any easier, that’s for sure. We used up a lot of energy in that game, especially as we had to play extra time. An additional 30 minutes makes a big difference, particularly in that heat.
Looking back, do you think you had a chance of eliminating USA, who beat you 2-1 in the quarter-finals?
We know what the Americans have to offer, but our team has its own attributes as well. Anything’s possible in a single match. We tried to shut them down and play to our strengths; we managed to cause them some difficulties. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to capitalise on their weaknesses quickly enough, and we conceded the opening goal so early. Some players felt the pressure too much, and there were a series of mistakes at the beginning of the match. That’s what led to our downfall.
It seemed as if the French players were suffering from a lack of confidence, whereas confidence is one of the USA’s great strengths.
Yes, there’s no doubt that. It’s a completely different culture. But despite everything, we were on top for a significant period during the match. But we weren’t able to get a goal during the spell where we were dominating, which must have lasted for a good 20 to 25 minutes. And it was at that point that they scored their second goal on the counter-attack, while we were pushing forward strongly. In the end, we just lacked a bit of belief.
France’s men’s team waited a long time before winning a major tournament (UEFA EURO 1984). What do you think the women’s team need to do to reach a final and lift a trophy?
We have to continue building up our experience of major international competitions. Unfortunately, we won’t be playing at the next Women’s Olympic Football Tournament, but that’s the kind of event in which you can develop and make progress. Since 2012, the quarter-finals have become something of an insurmountable barrier for us.
As well as our opponents, we’re also fighting against that aspect, which tends to loom over us, and which also means that we play fewer matches because we’re not continuing as far on into tournaments as we can. We don’t yet have that habit of always appearing in the last four. But we’ll get there; that’s what we’re working towards.
French players aside, was there someone who really impressed you during France 2019?
Rose Lavelle’s performances in the American midfield made a strong impression on me. She wasn’t all that well-known before the World Cup, but she managed to gradually establish herself in the starting line-up. I chatted with Jill Ellis after the tournament, and she was full of praise for Lavelle’s qualities as a footballer and a person. As far as I’m concerned, she was the revelation of that team and of the competition.
How did you handle the attention from the media during the World Cup?
There were certainly more and more media requests, but as an ex-player from the 1990s and 2000s, who experienced the almost total anonymity of women’s football, I’m not going to complain too much! (laughs) That would be doing an injustice to those who came before us, the preceding generations who fought for this recognition. I think of all those former internationals who would have dreamed about experiencing something like that.
The increase in media coverage has its advantages and disadvantages, of course, and you have to accept that. The media interest in the World Cup exceeded all expectations, and everyone who was discovering the women’s game for the first time seemed to come away with a positive impression.
Were you upset at some of the criticism?
We’d been promised the same treatment as the men, and so from that point of view, we certainly weren’t surprised. We knew how it all worked. The most important thing is to make sure you protect yourself by keeping your priorities straight.
During the World Cup, how did you feel when you saw how far women’s football had come since your playing days?
I experienced strong emotions during the World Cup, especially when the French national anthem was playing and everyone in the stadium would sing along. Beyond that, it’s a tournament and you can’t allow yourself to get distracted. I was described as “reserved”, but I was actually totally focused on our objective, paying full attention to what was happening on the pitch. You can’t allow yourself to let your mind drift and look at the supporters, even for a second. That focus can sometimes come across as me being reserved – maybe even more so than usual. (laughs)
Are there other coaches out there who inspire you?
I don’t have a role model as such; I do draw inspiration from several different coaches by reading things they’ve written or by discussing issues with them. I’ve been lucky in that I’ve been able to take part in the FIFA Coach Mentorship Programme, which enables me to develop different relationships with other coaches, and to talk with them more regularly. The programme has broken down barriers and has helped us get away from the competitive environment and exchange ideas without the pressure of obtaining results, in a more relaxed and constructive manner.
Your record as coach is the best in the history of the French women’s team (35 matches, 27 wins, four draws, four defeats). Is that a source of pride for you? Do you think it should be more widely known?
Well, in any case, it’s the first I’ve heard of it! (laughs) I wouldn’t say I feel pride; it’s more a sense of satisfaction with the work I and my staff have achieved, even though we’re still waiting for that landmark tournament victory. And that’s probably why our good results have flown under the radar a little. Despite that, all our wins give us a great foundation which unites the players and helps them to build up their experience.
In conclusion, can you tell us how the lockdown has been for you, without matches to prepare for or players to oversee?
Fairly good, overall. When it started, I just relaxed. Given we had no fixtures in the short- or medium-term, I was able to really take a break. I think I finally got over the World Cup at the end of March 2020! After that, staying at home gave me the chance to do a thorough assessment of last season, to plan for the future, and to work on and think carefully about – with my staff – how France will play as we move forward.