The pressure is on France to live up to their status as one of the favourites as the host nation kick off their World Cup on Friday with the spotlight shining on women’s football as never before.
It’s the biggest women’s World Cup ever with nearly one million tickets sold for a global tournament in which competition is so stiff that several teams are genuine contenders for the title.
The opening game at the month-long tournament, between the hosts and South Korea, is a sell-out in Paris, setting off an “explosion” of women’s football, according to FIFA president Gianni Infantino.
“We have a big event, we have 1 billion viewers,” he told FIFA’s Congress in Parison Thursday ” We will be proud of that.”
Organisers say 950,000 tickets have been sold and may have miscalculated when they chose to stage a large proportion of the matches in stadiums with a capacity of 25,000 or less.
“We did not always choose big grounds because we didn’t want any empty stadiums,” Noel Le Graet, the president of the French Football Federation, told AFP.
“I was a bit scared about the Parc des Princes, but the opening match sold out in five minutes.”
The rising interest in France, and in much of western Europe, follows the improved quality of many of the teams from traditional football powers.
This time, contenders to lift the trophy in Lyon on July 7 are plentiful.
The French, captained by Lyon star Amandine Henry, will get the chance to showcase their credentials when they run out before 47,000 fans at the Parc des Princes to face the South Koreans at 1900 GMT in the first match in Group A, which also contains Norway and Nigeria.
Les Bleus are ranked fourth in the world and are seen as the second favourites after the holders, the United States.
The country is home to Europe’s leading club side, with Lyon last month winning a fourth consecutive Champions League, but the national team lost in the quarter-finals of the last World Cup, the last European Championship and the 2016 Olympics.
Le Graet has set the home team the target of going all the way to the final.
“That is what he said and that is what I am paid to do. If I don’t fulfil that objective I will have to stand aside,” coach Corinne Diacre told sports daily L’Equipe.
“We would have been disappointed if the objective was smaller. It proves that he has confidence in us. It means we are capable of doing it,” added Diacre, a former French international who previously coached Clermont in the men’s second division.