PARIS — In almost every observable way, on every patch of the turf and in every minute of the opening match of the Women’s World Cup on Friday night, the French were too much for the South Koreans.
They were more skilled, more purposeful, more poised, carving squiggly lines through the defense with cadenced passing and braiding movement. They jumped higher and ran faster around the wet, windswept field at the Parc des Princes.
And in the end, they had far more fun, laughing and dancing as a group after each of their goals on the way to a comprehensive 4-0 victory in front of a festive crowd of 45,261.
A long tournament lies ahead, but France’s team — ranked No. 4 in the world and widely considered a front-runner to win the trophy on its home soil — took a big, convincing step forward with a performance that should act as a warning signal to all the other countries that begin play in the coming days.
“We’ve won tonight’s match, but this is just one step in the road, and we have six more steps to take if we are to go all the way in regards to our ambitions,” said France’s coach, Corinne Diacre, who had encouraged her players to have fun. “When you do enjoy things and do things with passion, typically things go well as a result.”
The enjoyment came in intoxicating waves, from the opening moments of the match.
Eugénie Le Sommer opened the scoring in the ninth minute, when the haze from the pyrotechnic pregame extravaganza had just cleared. Defender Wendie Renard scored twice in the first half — on a header in the 35th minute and another two minutes into first-half added time — to essentially clinch the victory before intermission.
“When you have more than 45,000 people singing the French national anthem, obviously it does drive you forward,” said Renard, who at 6-foot-2 had a height advantage of more than six inches over her closest defender on each goal.
France’s captain, Amandine Henry, capped the night in the 85th minute when she boomeranged a right-footed shot into the top right corner of the goal. The joyous dance she and her teammates performed on the sideline seemed to release some of the pressure that, as the tournament hosts, they have faced from all sides.
The game kicked off 327 days after the French men’s team paraded down the Champs-Élysées in an open-topped bus, in front of hundreds of thousands of spectators, in celebration of their win at the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Many fans are hoping the women will make a similar journey in a month’s time.
Women’s World Cups are inevitably entangled with larger questions, about issues like gender quality and the overall health and growth of women’s sports. Could this tournament present another steppingstone in the gradual ascent of women’s soccer?
As the players warmed up on the field, a group of girls from the French club A.S. Bondy bounced around in their seats, shouting “Allez les Bleues!” and clapping.
“It’s good to see women shining so much in soccer,” said Kelyann Neriny, 13, who was at the match with her Bondy teammates. “We don’t get to see them so often.”
Their coach, Laroussi Haraket, started the women’s department of the club in 2015 with 20 girls. Today, he said, there are 136, and he predicted participation in girls’ soccer in France would “blow up” if the national team collected the World Cup trophy.
“They need icons, stars or not, they need women who take as much light as their male counterparts, and whom they can relate to,” he said.
The French players embraced the task, reveled in it, and let it energize them to victory.
Ahead of the 9 p.m. kickoff, they passed time watching the French Open semifinal match between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal on television.
“Then we prepared our bags and we waited,” the wing Gaetane Thiney said, “like kids who go to Disneyland and are hopping up and down with impatience.”
Once they were on the field, their opponents could do little to slow them down. The left side of the South Korean defense looked particularly tremulous, and the French plowed at it ruthlessly.
In all regards, the French looked immaculately drilled, unwinding clever set-piece sequences on multiple occasions to catch their opponents off guard. One of them, a corner kick in the 27th minute, resulted in an apparent goal that was overturned by video review after the scorer, Griedge Mbock Bathy, was determined to have been a few inches offside.
After the game, South Korea’s coach, Yoon Deok-yeo, could do little more than apologize.
“In Korea, there are people who watched the match at a late hour, so I would like to say I’m sorry to the soccer fans in Korea,” he said. “France is the host of this event, they are potential winners of this event, and they showed how strong they are.”
Megan Rapinoe, an American forward, said earlier this week that the French were the favorites, acknowledging that such a compliment from a player on the No. 1-ranked United States team might come across as gamesmanship.
“I think all the pressure’s on them,” Rapinoe added.
Whatever pressure the French might have felt Friday was gone by the final whistle. After the game, they slowly walked around the perimeter of the field, clapping and waving to the fans — early, assured steps on a journey they hope will end with a trophy.
Elian Peltier contributed reporting.
Andrew Keh is an international correspondent, covering sports from Berlin. He has previously covered Major League Baseball and the N.B.A. and has reported from the World Cup and the Olympics. @andrewkeh
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