Reports of France’s demise may have been exaggerated somewhat. All the talk of disharmony in the camp, after coach Corinne Diacre left world-renowned stars such as Amandine Henry and Eugénie Le Sommer out of her squad for this tournament, were washed away in a startlingly brilliant opening half illuminated by a hat-trick from Grace Geyoro.
These were both firsts in a Women’s Euros tournament game – a team scoring five goals and a player claiming a treble by half-time – but what is not so novel is the rising crescendo that will be proclaiming France as one of the favourites to win the competition. Third in the world, with 15 successive wins, yet they remain the perennial underachievers. They get built up, only to knock themselves down. Maybe this time it will be different.
Aided and abetted by goals from Marie-Antoinette Katoto and Delphine Cascarino, France’s first-half nap hand was the least that the best women’s team never to have won a major tournament deserved. “It’s always good to have a great first game but nothing is decided,” Diacre said. “We should savour this victory as the performance in the first half was so good.”
Italy barely knew what had hit them as their hopes of capitalising on France’s supposed fragility disappeared into the balmy Yorkshire evening.
This tournament has got off to an entertaining start with 29 goals from the opening eight games. With every team now having played at least once, opinions can start to be formed about potential champions. Few, surely, will be discounting France from the conversation after this showing; not just yet, anyway.
Geyoro, who scored four league goals for Paris Saint-Germain in the whole of last season, was understandably named as the player of the match but Kadidiatou Diani, her clubmate, showed a mesmerising control to go with her lithe movement on the right wing as France cut Italy apart down the flanks.
Witnessing the velvet touch of the PSG winger was a purist’s joy to behold, and when she was fed by new Chelsea signing Ève Périsset in the ninth minute, her cross from the right allowed Geyoro to shoot home on the rebound after a slight deflection.
Within three minutes a cross from the left flank by Sakina Karchaoui was lamely palmed out by Laura Giuliani for Marie-Antionette Katoto, hotly tipped as potential golden boot contender, to tap in from five yards out.
The PSG No 9 promptly headed against the post after a superb move in which Diani, receiving Wendie Renard’s sumptuous long diagonal pass, crossed for Cascarino to head back into the middle.
Diani’s ability to manipulate a ball was from a higher plane and more than one centre flashed across the six-yard box requiring only a touch for another goal before three more did arrive in the seven minutes before half-time.
Firstly Cascarino cut back inside from the left-wing to crack home a 20-yarder with her right foot; then Geyoro ran clean through and rounded the goalkeeper to score before she completed her treble after a cross from Sandie Toletti.
Italy’s victories over Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands in the last 12 months appeared a misleading mirage after this first half but Milena Bertolini did manage to encourage her charges to come out and play with some pride.
The game may have been gone but there is still second place and the quarter-finals to play for, with Iceland next up on Thursday. So, even as France eased up, Italy can take some solace from their much-improved showing in the second half, capped by Martina Piemonte heading in off the post 14 minutes from time.
“We knew it was going to be difficult because there is a big gap between Italy and France,” Bertolini said. “We know we can compete with Belgium and Iceland.
“There are a number of positives to emerge from this evening. We’ll go again with the attitude we showed in the second half and it’s not so easy to do that when you go into the second half 5-0 down; it could have been a big debacle. But the girls did a good job of doing the simple things we discussed beforehand. It is a defeat that will teach us a great deal.”