France outclasses South Korea in showpiece FIFA Women's World Cup opener

On occasion, it’s important to stop and remember that from 1921 to 1969, the Football Association, England’s governing body for soccer and the oldest such institution in the sport, banned women from playing competitive games on the soccer fields under its jurisdiction – which is to say, all of them. The German ban on women’s soccer, informally enacted by the Nazi regime in the 1930s and officially implemented in 1955, wasn’t lifted until 1970.

Both of these major soccer nations, it should be noted, prohibited women’s soccer because early games had proved very popular and drew thousands of spectators. And that scared a lot of men. So under a pretext of concern for the players’ well-being, misogny blocked the women’s game for many decades.

The all-conquering United States, with its three Women’s World Cup titles and four Olympic gold medals, all since 1991, didn’t play its first officially sanctioned game until 1985. Which is to say that four members of the current team – Carli Lloyd, Ali Krieger, Becky Sauerbrunn and Megan Rapinoe – are older than the team they play on.

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Which made France’s 4-0 victory over South Korea Friday in the 2019 Women’s World Cup opener remarkable for its very existence. For the more than 45,000 who packed into the Parc des Princes in downtown Paris. For the robust coverage from French – and American – media. For the poignant and affirming Nike commercials. For the predictably bizarre opening ceremony, as sure of a sign as any that you’re in the big-time of sporting mega-events.

Wendie Renard (3) scored twice to lead France past South Korea in a Women's World Cup opener that was convincing in more ways than one. (Associated Press)
Wendie Renard (3) scored twice to lead France past South Korea in a Women's World Cup opener that was convincing in more ways than one. (Associated Press)

There’s something that still feels miraculous about women’s soccer in 2019, less than three decades after it occurred to FIFA to stage a World Cup for the other gender.

But the home team had little patience Friday for sentimentality. After all, France is, to many, the favorite to win its first World Cup and become the only nation to hold the men’s and women’s title at the same time.

So the fearsome French utterly crushed Korea. It was, as expected, plainly evident that this team is also the spine of the all-conquering Olympique Lyon, the European champions of the women’s game four times running. Eugenie Le Sommer got the first goal in just the ninth minute. And all 6-foot-2 of Wendie Renard hammered in two headers off corners to make it 3-0 by halftime. In the 85th minute, captain Amandine Henry curled in a superb fourth.

(Paul Rosales/Yahoo Sports)
(Paul Rosales/Yahoo Sports)

The tone was set early as Delphine Cascarino laid waste to Korea’s defense on the right. And the French dominance was such that Korea didn’t get a shot off until the 77th minute after an uncharacteristic Renard miscue. It’s worth noting here that Korea was the 13th-highest seeded team in this tournament and ranked 14th in the world. It reached the knockout stages four years ago in Canada. Korea is not a novice at this level.

Rather quickly, however, Henry overlapped on the right flank and cut the ball back for Le Sommer. Her finish was hardly immaculate, but goalkeeper Kim Jung-mi got only a soft hand to it and the ball pinged the underside of the bar and went into the net for the earliest goal in a Women’s World Cup opener, per TruMedia Sports.

Before the half-hour mark, the first goal of the tournament was followed by the first one disallowed by the Video Assistant Referee, which deemed Griedge Mbock Bathy to be offside by a smidge.

But then there was Renard. On a corner.

And Renard. On a corner.

That allowed Les Bleues to coast through the second half as head coach Corinne Diacre, the first woman to manage a professional men’s team, substituted off key players in order to spare their legs for the remainder of the tournament.

Still, her captain Henry stayed on and smashed in a goal of her own.

In spite of the pressure of playing the tournament opener, the hosts could focus on performance and, once the game was won, on conserving energy and preparing themselves for their remaining group games against Norway on Wednesday and Nigeria on June 17. France could begin worrying about how the knockout stage will break for them, with that dreaded potential matchup with the United States looming in the quarterfinals, if both teams win their groups and progress through the round of 16, as expected.

And that, in and of itself, is a victory for the women’s game too. This highly anticipated opener wasn’t about advertising the women’s side of the sport. The point of it wasn’t to entertain and convince the skeptics that the women are worthy. Those battles have been fought already. Those battles have been won.

The Women’s World Cup is about one thing only, and that’s winning the Women’s World Cup.

Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist and a sports communication lecturer at Marist College. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.

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