BRISBANE – Wendie Renard was threatening to skip the Women’s World Cup and Eugénie Le Sommer wasn't in selection contention just a few months ago under France's previous coaching regime.
A management overhaul and a change of heart ultimately led to two of French football's most experienced players combining for Les Bleues on Saturday to deliver a 2-1 win over Brazil that put them into a strong position to progress to the round of 16.
Le Sommer missed with a diving header in the 13th minute but needed only four more minutes to convert her next chance, beating Brazilian goalkeeper Leticia with a more emphatic header to score her record-extending 90th international goal.
Debinha equalized for Brazil as the hour approached, and the game opened up as both teams pressed for a winner. That's when Renaud stepped in.
Renard, who'd been in doubt for the match because of a calf injury she picked up in France's lackluster opening 0-0 draw against Jamaica, drifted unmarked to the back edge of the box to meet a corner kick with a powerful header in the 83rd and clinch victory.
It meant the well-traveled Hervé Renard, who was hired in March to replace Corinne Diacre, became the first head coach to win games at both the women’s and men’s World Cups.
His upset victory with Saudi Arabia over eventual champion Argentina was one of the highlights of the men's World Cup in Qatar last year. His French women's team showed signs against Brazil that it could go deep in the tournament.
He credited his veteran players, either recalled or convinced to remain, for the turnaround.
Wendie Renard “is the most important player in the dressing room. Always talking, motivating the the other girls,” the France coach said, describing his captain’s influence on the team. Of other veterans like Le Sommer and Kadidiatou Diani, he added: “You need leaders in the team — they have a good experience and we need them to motivate also the other players.”
Le Sommer, who missed selection for the 2022 Euros under former coach Diacre, was in the thick of the early action for France.
The French started with a high tempo and had three chances before Sakina Karchaoui’s long floating ball into the area found Diani, who leaped and headed square for Le Sommer to finish off from directly in front.
The Brazilian women had never beaten France but started to meet them for intensity as halftime approached, helped by the majority of an almost 50,000-strong crowd.
Debinha equalized in the 58th, finishing off a quick passing movement into the area, controlling a deflected ball with the outside of her leg before firing in a right-foot shot.
Leticia kept Brazil in the game with a string of impressive saves, and Selma Bacha hit the side netting with her shot from the right in the 75th, unable to break the deadlock for France.
After Renard broke the deadlock, Brazil sent Marta in the 86th for her 22nd World Cup appearance — moving her to outright second on the country's all-time list — but she wasn't able to equalize in a frenetic finish.
Brazil is now winless in 12 women's internationals against France, a setback for a team that opened the Women's World Cup with a thumping 4-0 win over Panama, with Ary Borges scoring three goals and providing the back-heel assist for one of the goals of the tournament.
Against a more disciplined defense, the Brazilians weren't able to finish despite creating ample opportunities.
Coach Pia Sundhage said she was disappointed with her Brazilian team’s first half and overall lack of cohesion.
The defensive lapse on the set piece that led to France's winning goal was discouraging, she said, before adding: “I’m more disappointed we couldn’t make this a game where we play like the Brazilian style.”
Jamaica edged Panama 1-0 later Saturday in Perth to join France on four competition points in Group F, one ahead of Brazil. On Wednesday, three teams will be vying for two spots in the next round when Brazil meets Jamaica in Melbourne and France takes on Panama in Sydney.