Sunday 19 August 2018, 14:33

Pichon: Women's football is going to the next level

  • ​Marinette Pichon left a lasting legacy during her prolific playing career

  • She boasts more goals for France than any other player, male or female

  • She shared her thoughts on France 2018 with

Whenever a women's football extravaganza is held in France, you can guarantee that Marinette Pichon will make her presence felt. One of the true greats of French football, she remains the country's top scorer of all time on the international stage – male or female – with 81 goals in 112 caps. With her talent and renown, she did as much as anyone to boost the profile of women's football in France in the period between her debut in 1992, a time when the female game was much less widely covered in the media, and hanging up her boots in 2007.

It goes without saying that Pichon has been keenly following the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup France 2018. She kindly agreed to give her take on the tournament and her country's performances thus far in an exclusive interview. Marinette, you attended the quarter-final tie between France and Korea DPR in Concarneau on 16 August. Did you enjoy the show? What did you make of Les Bleuettes' display? Marinette Pichon: I loved it! France are going from strength to strength. I was particularly impressed by the opening 25 minutes, when they bossed the game and had the upper hand both physically and technically. After that, they conceded a bit more ground and surrendered possession somewhat. Overall, though, they've got stronger as the competition has progressed. They struggled against New Zealand, but Les Bleuettes picked themselves up and showcased all their quality against the Netherlands and then built on that against Korea DPR. This France team have all the ingredients to capture a medal and maybe even the top prize.

Did any Bleuettes players particularly catch your eye? I was really impressed by Amelie Delabre's efforts leading the line. She's got an unusual skill set that I'm a fan of: she's powerful and clinical going forward, but she also offers a lot defensively. I love the way Christy Gavory acquitted herself in midfield and the same goes for Julie Thibaud at the back – as well as Selma Bacha, needless to say. But I could name them all, because it was a wonderful performance across the board. Korea threatened more in the second half, but France were able to keep them at bay.

For the second straight game, Gilles Eyquem chose to start Amelie Delabre in place of Marie-Antoinette Katoto, who had been tipped to be one of the stars of the tournament. As a coach, you've got to pick the players who are in form. That's the case for Amelie. Beyond just her youthful enthusiasm, she's proven that she can be counted on. After her hat-trick against the Netherlands, she shone again against Korea. She was a handful for their defence and when the time came to take responsibility, she stepped up to the plate and converted the penalty.

France face Spain in the semi-finals. Are they opponents who can cause France trouble? It could be a tricky match. We're talking about the last four here: you can't fluke your way to the semi-finals. Spain are a very attractive team in terms of how they keep the ball and use it and their patterns of play. They excel at stretching opponents by exploiting the full width of the pitch. We'll have to keep a close eye on Aitana Bonmati, who makes the rest of the team tick, but Les Bleuettes are in the groove and are playing at home. I'm backing them to rise to the occasion.

Generally speaking, what have you made of the standard of play at this U-20 Women's World Cup? It's surprised me. Certain countries, like Haiti, were featuring in the competition for the first time and I don't think we've seen much of a gap between the debutants and the regulars. Some teams certainly still have some maturing to do and need to keep improving tactically and technically, but I've found the standard to be pretty evenly matched and the games have been great to watch.

What position was women's football in back when you were 20 years old? It was very tough: we had to battle hard! We took it upon ourselves to develop the sport. We didn't have the same level of support; there were fewer resources and structures in place and fewer people embraced the game. Mindsets have shifted these days and women's football is going to the next level at all age groups, which I'm thrilled about.

From the sounds of it, you see this competition hosted in France as a success story. You must be very confident about the one that will be taking place here next summer [the FIFA Women's World Cup 2019™]. We're on the right track in terms of the organisation of matches, the receptiveness from the fans and the enthusiasm inside the stadiums. I'm really pleased to see the stadiums rocking during France matches – it shows we're capable of packing out the stands!