ADELAIDE – France coach Herve Renard high-fived his staff on the sideline as it became clear his team was on its way to the quarterfinals of the Women’s World Cup.
Only 23 minutes had been played at Adelaide’s Hindmarsh Stadium on Tuesday, but France was already 3-0 up against Morocco and on course for a showdown with co-host Australia.
The French scored once more in the second half to win 4-0 and end Morocco’s historic debut run at the World Cup.
“The result speaks for itself,” Renard said. “We were able to score four times and now we’ve got a foot in the door for the quarterfinals. Things are getting a little bit heated. Only eight teams left in the running. The objective now is to pull off the best performance that the French team has ever done.”
France took fourth place in 2011 and this is the fourth straight time it has advanced to the quarterfinals of the World Cup.
A three-goal burst in nine minutes took the game away from Morocco, with Kadidiatou Diani, Kenza Dali and Eugenie Le Sommer all scoring early in the match.
Le Sommer, who is France's all-time leading scorer, headed in a fourth in the 70th minute to complete the win. She has now scored 92 goals for her country — more than any French player, male or female.
“Her game was exceptional,” Renard said. “Her legs, it was as if she was 25... I hope that this lasts. Each time I’m actually blown away by what she’s capable of doing.”
Renard knows France has a sizable task to get past Australia when the teams meet in Brisbane on Saturday for a place in the semifinals.
France lost a friendly to the Matildas leading into the tournament. But Renard said the pressure of being a co-host, along with New Zealand, could weigh heavily on the Australians in front of their home fans.
France was eliminated as hosts in the quarterfinals in 2019.
“It can be hugely disappointing, and it was for France when they were knocked out in the quarterfinals," Renard said. “And we are hoping to put Australia through exactly what France went through when they were the host country... We’ve come with great ambition and if you come with great ambition you need to be capable of beating the best teams.”
Morocco's tournament is over after it became the first Arab nation to advance to the knockout stage.
The Atlas Lions were also the first Arab team to register a win at the Women's World Cup by beating South Korea in the group stage. They followed that by upsetting group winner Colombia to advance to the round of 16 at the expense of No. 2-ranked Germany.
But overcoming France, one of the tournament favorites, was a step too far for Reynald Pedros’ team.
“I’m not disappointed, because we got to the round of 16. This was our first World Cup and we knew that the further in the competition we got, the harder it would be,” Pedros said.
He added that his team's success was even more remarkable than Morocco's historic semifinals run at the men's World Cup last year.
“Let’s not forget that three years ago we were just putting together a women’s team in Morocco,” he said.
Diani opened the scoring for France in the 15th minute when she was left unmarked in front of goal to head in Sakina Karchaoui’s cross from the left.
It was Diani’s fourth goal of the tournament after her hat trick in France’s 6-3 win over Panama in its final Group F match.
Dali scored five minutes later after Diani cut back from the right. Dali struck a first-time shot low into the corner to beat Morocco goalkeeper Khadija Er-Rmichi.
And France was 3-0 up when Diani blocked the attempted clearance of Nesryne El Chad into the path of Le Sommer to convert.
Le Sommer got a second goal when she headed it in at the far post from Vicki Becho’s looping cross with 20 minutes left in regulation.
Australia advanced to the quarterfinals with a 2-0 win over Denmark. Star striker Sam Kerr returned from a calf injury to make her first appearance at this World Cup. She was a second-half substitute against the Danes.
James Robson is at https://twitter.com/jamesalanrobson
More AP Women’s World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/fifa-womens-world-cup