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France face reality check ahead of match against Norway

Valery Hache, AFP | The French national team practices in the southern French city of Nice on June 10, 2019.

After easily defeating South Korea (4-0), France will face stiff competition on Wednesday as they take on Norway in their second group stage match.

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Things just got real for Les Bleues. After an easy opening match against South Korea, France will now face off against a more evenly matched opponent in their second group stage match.

They will compete against Norway – champions of the 1995 World Cup and two-time winners of the European Championships, in 1987 and 1993 – at 9pm (GMT +2) on Wednesday in the southern French city of Nice.

As the top goal scorers in Group A, France are more or less guaranteed to qualify for the final 16 if they win against Norway. But Coach Corinne Diacre has been cautious to take the competition one match at a time.

“The final is on July 7,” Diacre said at a press conference on Tuesday. “For me, this is just the second group stage match. We need to be as serious as we were against Korea.”

‘A challenging match’

One thing Les Bleues can count on is the absence of Norway’s star player, Ballon d’Or winner Ada Hegerberg, who has been locked in a dispute with the Norwegian Football Federation ever since the team’s disappointing performance at the 2017 European championship.

While Hegerberg’s name is on the tip of everyone’s tongue, Diacre has refused to think about it.

“France are playing against Norway, and not Ada Hegerberg… it’s a team that qualified [for the World Cup] without her,” she said. “We’re expecting a challenging match.”

Since Hegerberg left the team, Norway have proven they are still a force to be reckoned with. They handily beat Nigeria (3-0) over weekend in their opening group stage match. And they qualified for the World Cup first in their group after defeating defending European champions, the Netherlands.

France is fully aware that they will have to step up their level of play from their opening match.

“We’re expecting a hard game. We can’t talk about a shock, because it’s clear that there are no more small-time teams. We’re taking this match against Norway seriously, as we do all games,” explained captain Amandine Henry.

Sold-out tickets

On the eve of Wednesday’s match, however, there was some concern that not all of France’s players would be fit to compete.

Wendie Renard, who scored a double against South Korea, was absent during two recent practice sessions. Meanwhile, Eugénie Le Sommer, ranked the world’s number-one women’s goalie, was also sidelined during training on Monday due to  a minor muscle injury.

Diacre sought to dismiss concern, pointing out that the full team roster was present for practice on Tuesday.

“All of the players have been spared,” she said, underlining that “there wasn’t a problem”.

Diacre added that she has no intention of changing her starting lineup against Norway.

“I’m happy with the 11 who started against Korea, so it makes sense that we would kick off with the same 11,” she said.

Les Bleues will also go into Wednesday’s match with a home field advantage. As with their group stage opener at the Parc des Princes in Paris, tickets have already sold out.

France midfielder Amel Majri said the support of their fans helped to give them an edge.

“It pushes us when things aren’t going so well. It’s this little boost that that will help us to win certain games,” she said.

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