Manchester City striker Mary Fowler scored the only goal as Australia warmed up for the Women’s World Cup by beating fifth-ranked France 1-0 Friday in front of more than 50,000 fans.
It ensured the tournament co-hosts head into their opening World Cup match against Ireland in Sydney next week on a winning note.
Fowler’s clinical finish in the 66th minute was all that separated the sides in a fast-paced friendly watched by a sell-out, 50,629-strong crowd in Melbourne — the largest ever on home soil for the Australian women’s team.
Defeat ended new France coach Herve Renard’s three-match win streak since giving up a lucrative contract with the Saudi Arabia men’s team to take over, when former boss Corinne Diacre was sacked in March.
And it left him with an injury worry after Lyon defender Selma Bacha was stretchered off in the dying minutes, clutching her left ankle.
“I went to see her, everyone was gathered around her. She rolled her ankle and we hope it’s not too serious. It’s the worst piece of news this evening,” Renard said.
Both sides kicked off with close to their best XI and had early half-chances after a nervy start, with Australia threatening on the counter-attack.
But it took until the 16th minute for the first shot on target, Bacha’s stinging strike parried by goalkeeper Mackenzie Arnold.
France started to click in midfield and twice went close, but the home defence was solid and they went to the break scoreless.
The deadlock was finally broken when new Real Madrid recruit Hayley Raso accepted the ball on the right and picked out substitute Fowler, who made no mistake.
“Always an important game, they’re a great team and I thought we put in a great performance tonight,” said Australia skipper Sam Kerr. “But this all about the journey, about building confidence for next week.”
Despite the loss, France controlled possession for long periods and forward Eugenie Le Sommer said it was part of their learning curve.
“We are disappointed because we wanted to win, it was a tough game and Australia play very good,” she said.
“But we had good chances as well, unfortunately we couldn’t finish. It was a great atmosphere and a great feeling to play in front of so many fans.”
As well as Ireland, Australia face 11-time African champions Nigeria and reigning Olympic gold medallists Canada in World Cup Group B.
Les Bleues start their campaign against Jamaica on July 23 in Sydney and will also play Brazil and Panama in Group F.
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