The fourth, and final, Euro 2022 quarter-final at Rotherham on Saturday night was supposed to be dominated by a subplot revolving around two of the most feared strikers of their generation.
Cruel reality dictates only one is expected on the pitch as France attempt to progress beyond the final eight of a European Championship for the first time and the Netherlands endeavor to defend their 2017 title.
If the latter’s hopes have been bolstered by the expectation that Arsenal’s Vivianne Miedema will be back at centre-forward after Covid, France must somehow cope without their free-scoring Paris Saint-Germain striker Marie-Antoinette Katoto, who ruptured a cruciate ligament in the group match against Belgium.
It represents a harsh blow for Corinne Diacre’s team but Mark Parsons’ Netherlands also suffered a recent setback when Lieke Martens, the winger that illuminated Euro 2017 with her often audacious skill and adhesive first touch, was ruled out of the remainder of the tournament by a foot injury.
Parsons, like Diacre, is under considerable pressure – and scrutiny. Whereas Diacre polarises opinion in France, the 35-year Englishman is faced with the task of emulating the achievements of his predecessor, Sarina Wiegman, now in charge of England.
No matter that the Surrey-born Parsons – once the Chelsea Women reserve coach – arrived trailing a fine track record from the United States, where he managed Washington Spirit and Portland Thorns. Wiegman set the bar rather high for leading her home country to glory in 2017 and the final of the 2019 World Cup in France.
Parsons frequently jokes that: “Maybe following Sarina wasn’t the cleverest career move” but he is serious when it comes to his belief that the serial tournament underachievers otherwise known as France are beatable.
“We’re playing big opponents,” Parsons said. “But so are they. I don’t think France wants to play us. The last time we met the result wasn’t what we wanted [a 3-1 defeat in February] but we were confident we would be better the next time we played them. We saw opportunity.”
If it is easy to warm to the eloquent, personable Parsons, Diacre has a much more caustic public edge. The 47-year-old has been in the headlines ever since becoming the first woman to manage a men’s professional team in France when she took charge of Ligue Two Clermont from 2014-2017.
Diacre’s decision to omit the supremely talented, highly experienced Amandine Henry and Eugénie Le Sommer from a gifted yet potentially fragile squad caused consternation and there have been repeated rumors of certain creative tensions within the camp.
Even so, a coach who is said to have finally started remembering how to smile in recent months possesses possibly the world’s best center half in Wendie Renard. Meanwhile Grace Geyoro is an outstanding goalscoring midfielder.
“We play on the front foot with great attacking players who create plenty of chances but now we need to be more clinical,” said Diacre whose largely youthful side have still yet to score a second-half goal at Euro 2022. “We have no new injuries so we have 22 players available for the quarter-final; that’s important.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism