A resolute Jamaica outfit has held France to a 0-0 draw at Allianz Stadium, the Reggae Girlz’ first-ever competition point at a World Cup.
The wasteful Les Bleus were on top for large stretches of the contest but could not capitalise on their huge possession advantage and 13 attempts on goal that gave Rebecca Spencer plenty of work to do in the Jamaica goal.
It is a valuable point for the Reggae Girlz, but it wasn’t all good news as striker Khadija Shaw was sent for an early shower in injury time when she was booked for the second time after a bad challenge.
For Herve Renard’s France outfit it was two points dropped after their wasteful attack could not break down Spencer. An important clash with Brazil looms next Saturday, where a defeat would spell disaster for Les Bleus.
Continuing the theme of favourites starting slowly in the opening few days of the World Cup, France were sluggish in the early stages, clearly ahead in the possession column but making little use of all that ball.
There was early concern for both coaches after a head clash between Shaw and Ellie Carpenter’s club teammate Wendie Renard, but after a significant delay both women were able to continue.
As expected Les Bleus were in complete control of possession early on, moving the ball at ease with Jamaica sitting deep.
The earlier downpour in Sydney made for a very slick surface, with players struggling at times to keep their footing.
On the back of an excellent overlapping run fullback Maelle Lakrar found herself in space in the penalty area but overhit her cross badly, putting an end to an excellent passage of play from Les Bleus.
The Reggae Girlz were managing to make inroads, transitioning well when winning possession from their high energy defending but lacking quality in the final third.
For all their possession France, too, were unable to create much of substance, with Renard cutting an unimpressed figure in the technical area as the contest remained scoreless after 25 minutes.
Shaw was quite isolated up front, being swarmed by defenders whenever Jamaica found their striker.
A quick transition led to an opening for Kadidiatou Diani, but Spencer was able to parry the strike out for a corner.
Presented with another opportunity to deliver a cross, Lakrar’s cut-back again could only find a Jamaican shirt.
Five minutes of injury time was added on to the first half, continuing another trend in this tournament as well as last year’s men’s World Cup.
An Amel Majri cross/shot gave Spencer some trouble but she was able to lay a glove on it.
Diani then controlled a ball with an exquisite first touch, before firing off a deflected side-footed effort that flashed past the post for another Les Bleus corner.
That was all from a busy yet anti-climactic first half in Sydney that featured three yellow cards – the most of any first 45 minutes in the tournament so far – as the mercury dropped and the wet weather returned.
The second stanza began much as the first ended, with France continuing to pile on the pressure.
The Reggae Girlz looked tired from all the defending they were forced to do, unable to keep hold of the ball when they managed to win it back. There was an air of inevitability about a France goal, having already won 13 set-pieces with multiple in dangerous areas.
Chance after chance was going begging for Renard’s side as they had only managed to send three attempts on target to trouble Spencer.
Renard had seen enough, withdrawing Majri and Clara Mateo in favour of Kenza Dali and Vicki Becho in hopes of breaking the deadlock.
Diani, despite being among France’s best and spared from being replaced, was responsible for a few of those – the latest a free header inside the six-yard area that again missed the target.
It was all one-way traffic with Spencer given increasingly more to do but not being seriously tested between the sticks.
Rain started to absolutely teem down, sending some of the near sell-out crowd scrambling for cover as Les Bleus toiled away in search of that elusive goal that had once seemed inevitable.
As the clock ticked down France came even closer, this time Diani’s header cannoning back off the crossbar. It did not appear to be the forward’s night, working extremely hard but coming up empty at each time of asking in the penalty area.
Trouble came for Jamaica in the 92nd minute, with Shaw sent off for a second bookable offence after a bad challenge. The star forward will miss Jamaica’s second group game against Panama in Perth.
There was time for one more chance, with Dali’s off-balance strike not enough to breach Spencer’s clean sheet.
The full-time whistle provoked a wall of noise from the Jamaican faithful as the Reggae Girlz held on for a famous point.
For Les Bleus, a huge clash with Brazil at Suncorp Stadium that could decide who tops the group beckons on Saturday.