France opened their women’s World Cup with a hard-earned 1-0 victory over Nigeria in Sinsheim, Germany, on Sunday thanks to Marie-Laure Delie’s goal in a crucial Group A encounter.
A near sell-out crowd of 25,475 saw a number of good chances, but no goals until Delie’s strike in the 56th minute gave France the three points.
“It is our first match and we have three points. They are in our pockets and nobody can take them away,” France coach Bruno Bini said. “Tactically, we were a little bit better than them and that allowed us to win the game.”
“Unfortunately, it’s one of those things in football. That’s why it’s a game. We had it in the hand and suddenly it slipped off,” Nigeria coach Ngozi Uche said.
The game at the Rhein-Neckar-Arena was considered a near must-win for both sides with two-time reigning champions and hosts Germany must likely to advance as the other team from Group A to the quarter-finals.
France were the dominating team right from the start, especially on the left side through Louisa Necib — for whom Nigeria had no answer.
“There are not many players like her. She is just an artist. When I am cold and she gets the ball, I am warm again. She is like a ray of sunshine,” Bini said about the player of the match.
France were unable to create a real chance though until Elise Bussaglia’s long blast after 17 minutes, which Nigeria goalkeeper Precious Dede did a fine job fending away.
A minute later, Gaetane Thiney’s attempt off a corner struck the right post, followed by defender Wendie Renard shooting over the crossbar from close-range in the 23rd minute.
Nigeria slowly worked their way into the game and Desure Oparanozie was sent clear down the right side in the 25th minute, but the 17-year-old failed to keep her nerve and shot well left of the goal in a one-on-one situation with goalkeeper Berangere Sapowicz, missing the best chance of the first half.
“The inability of the front players to convert hurt us in this match,” Uche said.
Uche was forced to replace Faith Ikidi in favor of Josephine Chukwunonye after just 34 minutes and Necib had a long shot batted away for a corner by Dede a minute before the break.
France coach Bruno Bini made one switch at halftime, bringing on Eugiene Le Sommer for Sandrine Soubeyrand.
The move paid off for Les Bleus as Le Sommer received a through ball on the right side and the Olympique Lyonnais midfielder crossed into the box, where Necib got her foot on the ball before Delie blasted it past Dede.
France celebrated with Bussaglia acting as if she was shining Delie’s shoes.
The 23-year-old Montpellier forward Delie is in fantastic form, having scored 22 goals in 21 caps and 12 goals in her last six matches.
“I give it my best each time. The purpose of a striker is to score and voila,” Delie said.
“It just keeps going. She is really unbelievable,” Bini said of Delie.
Delie nearly struck again after 64 minutes, twisting and striking but only finding Dede.
Bini had to make a final substitution five minutes later, with Renard coming off holding her groin area to be replaced by Laure Lepailleur.
Nigeria went for broke and brought on 16-year-old starlet Uchechi Sunday in the 78th minute, but the France defense held firm just barely, as leftback Sonia Bompastor helped clear a dangerous header with four minutes to play.
France nearly finished off the African giants, but Necib’s free-kick went just over the crossbar in the 90th minute.