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, was washed away in a startlingly brilliant opening half illuminated by a hat-trick from Grace Geyoro.
Aided and abetted by goals from Marie-Antoinette Katoto and Delphine Cascarino, France scored all their five goals in the first half–- surely a record for a Women’s Euro tournament – but this was the least that the best women’s team never to have won a major tournament deserved.
Two-times winners Italy barely knew what had struck them as their hopes of capitalising on France’s supposed fragility disappeared into the balmy Yorkshire evening.
This tournament has got off to a brilliantly 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 will be discounting France from the conversation after this showing.
Kadidiatou Diani, nicknamed Beyonce by her teammates, showed a mesmerising touch to go with her lithe movement as France cut Italy apart down the flanks. The PSG winger, fed by new Chelsea signing Ève Périsset, crossed from the right and her clubmate shot 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 Katoto, hotly tipped as a 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 a joy to watch 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.
The Italian defenders showed plenty of hand gestures as they remonstrated with each other but their pre-tournament victories over Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands in the last 12 months appeared a misleading mirage after this showing.
Milena Bertolini did at least manage to encourage her charges to come out and play with some pride. When Pauline Peyraud-Magnin, the France goalkeeper, came flying out to punch clear, Lisa Boattin chested the ball down and volleyed the ball on the rise just past the far post.
Their task could have become even more arduous after captain Sara Gama came clattering into the back of Geyoro and was initially shown a red card.
Rebecca Welsh, the English referee, was encouraged to review her decision however and switched the red for a yellow, to a polite round of applause from neutrals all around the ground. There is a distinctly different atmosphere from the men’s game.
The game may have been gone but there is still second place and qualification to play for. So, even as France eased up, Italy can take some solace for their much improved showing in the second half, capped by Martina Piemonte heading in off the post 14 minutes from time.
In front of a less-than-full full New York Stadium crowd of 8,541, Italy were actually the better side in the second half, Piemonte also going close with a superb header in stoppage time that Peyraud-Magnin tipped aside at full stretch, and they will see Thursday’s game with Iceland, who drew 1-1 with Belgium in Manchester, as entirely winnable.