The USA has enjoyed a place in the sun for much of women’s soccer history, but its dominance may come under threat now that the rest of the world, mainly the France women’s soccer scene, is catching up. The game in Spain continues to mature, while England and its Women’s Super League is the place to be right now. However, the country sandwiched between those two, France, is developing at an even faster rate.
Supremacy Through Equality
Even if you don’t follow the France women’s soccer game, you may be familiar with Olympique Lyonnais’s utter dominance.
Boasting fourteen consecutive league titles and five consecutive Champions League triumphs, the French women’s soccer juggernaut has been the predominant force in European soccer for the past five years and domestically for well over a decade now.
The keys behind Lyon’s success are pretty obvious: investment and equality. President Jean-Michel Aulas’s ambition has been peerless, but money can only take you so far. Arguably the more significant manifestation of his commitment has been his implementation of a concept of equality between men and women.
And while there is still a significant pay gap between the two sets of players, they share the same facilities and are treated as equals. Hence, Lyon has been able to attract the best players in the world consistently.
France Women’s Soccer Is Strengthening
The French women’s first division Féminine is a dyarchy between Lyon and Paris Saint-Germain, but this could change soon as up-and-comers begin sprouting up throughout the country.
Bordeaux is the clearest and most recent example of what can be achieved with proper backing. The club’s women’s department was established only in 2015 and is already one of the most exciting projects in French soccer.
Thanks to the resources provided by their ownership, Les Girondins have been able to attract stars like Khadija “Bunny” Shaw, and after a third-place finish, the sky seems to be the limit.
NWSL Losing Appeal
While European leagues are growing, the NWSL in the United States is losing its appeal, despite being robust and more stable than ever. Additionally, the inability demonstrated by the American government in handling the COVID-19 pandemic has made a return to normality unimaginable, resulting in a mass exodus of talent.
Although billed only as short-term deals, there is no guarantee that high-profile players like Rose Lavelle, Sam Mewis, and the two latest departures, Christen Press and Tobin Heath, will return to the States.
Because of the league’s unique roster mechanism, USWNT players aren’t owned by their respective clubs but by the federation. And even though their former employers retained the players’ rights, why would they return if European teams can offer similar salaries, Champions League soccer, and a safer environment?
It is unlikely that the USWNT will be dethroned on the international stage, but the NWSL could perhaps stagnate if more of its stars head abroad; the likes of France and England women’s soccer leagues are ready to challenge the USA’s hegemony.
France Women’s Soccer Early History
In 1919, the Fédération des Sociétés Féminines Sportives de France (FSFSF) established a women’s football championship in France. Alice Milliat led a team of French women’s football pioneers to England on 29 April 1920 to play their first international match against the Dick, Kerr’s Ladies from England.
More than 25,000 people attended the match in Preston. The match was won by France 2–0, and they finished their tour with two wins, one draw, and one defeat.
Over 12,000 people watched a return match in France at the Stade Pershing in Vincennes, a suburb of Paris, the following year. Both teams drew 1-1. After WWI, the female game was abandoned, and the FSFSF’s women’s league was disbanded in 1932.
France’s first official international match was played against the Netherlands in Hazebrouck on 17 April 1971, after the French Football Federation’s Federal Council officially reinstated women’s football in 1970. A women’s World Cup was unofficially held in Mexico in 1971, with the French national team taking part.
The French Football Federation, the governing body of football in France, stepped up in 1975 and officially reinstated the women’s football league.
2011 Women’s World Cup
2003 marked France’s first appearance at the FIFA Women’s World Cup. They did not advance beyond the group stage. In 2007, they did not qualify. France’s women’s national team finished in second place in its 2011 World Cup group after beating Nigeria and Canada and losing to the host team Germany.
In the quarterfinals, the team defeated England on penalties but lost to the U.S. in the semifinals. The French squad finished fourth in the World Cup and qualified to compete in the Olympic football tournament at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. It was the first time the nation had ever participated in the Olympics.
France Women’s National Team Successful Era
Under coach Philippe Bergeroo (2013-16) and Corinne Diacre (2017-), the France women’s football squads entered one of the most successful eras.
UEFA Women’s Euro 2013 took place in Sweden, where France emerged victorious, beating Spain, England, and Russia to advance to the quarterfinals. A penalty shootout loss to Denmark prevented Bergeroo’s side from reaching the semi-finals.
During the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, France overcame South Korea to win 3–0 and set up a quarterfinal match against Germany. After 120 minutes, the score was 1-1, forcing a penalty shootout. France lost 4–5 on penalties after Claire Lavogez’s fifth penalty was denied by German goalkeeper Nadine Angerer, resulting in their elimination from the tournament.
Although winning all their group games comprehensively, France lost to England in the quarterfinals of the UEFA Women’s Euro 2017. The 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup was hosted by France. Leading into the tournament, they were one of the favorites to win the competition.
After defeating Brazil 2–1, France went on to lose to the United States 2-1 in the quarterfinals.
Rhett is an Australian-born, globe trotter who is a UEFA ‘A’ Licence Soccer Coach. With his family, he has traveled and coached soccer in more than 30 countries, while attending World Cups, European Championships, and some of the biggest local derbies in the world!