Jessica arrives in France just in time for the World Cup
Editor’s note: Welcome back to A Beggar For Good Soccer, our summer travelogue miniseries from Jessica Malone. This week, Jessica lands in France for the end of the Ligue 1 season and the start of the 2019 Women’s World Cup.
I arrived in France during the final week of the Ligue 1 season. I started in Nice, then traveled west to Marseille, the birthplace of Zinedine Zidane – my favorite player of all time. Olympique de Marseille were playing Montpellier HSC at Stade Velodrome in the last match of the season. Both teams were outside of the European spots in the table, but if Marseille won, they would jump above Montpellier and finish in 5th place.
Stade Velodrome quickly became one of my favorite stadiums. At OM’s previous home match, fans had vented their frustration at elimination from European competition next season in a flare-up both inside and outside the stadium.
Fortunately, the mood while I was at the stadium was not so tense… but even in a less than full stadium with 53,788 people, this match had the best atmosphere that I have seen so far on this trip. The fans never let up. Marseille won the match 1-0, but I will remember it for Mario Balotelli (on loan from Nice) making a second-half appearance as a substitute and getting a straight red card.
After Marseille I took the train north to Lyon, the host city for the World Cup semi-finals and final and the home of the Women’s Champions League winners. I stopped by the Olympique Lyonnais team store and bought an OL Féminin jersey, which I had customized with the name and number of Ada Hegerberg, winner of the first-ever Ballon d’Or Féminin.
Finally, I headed to Paris. France played their last warm-up match before the tournament against the Steel Roses of China at Stade Duvauchelle, a 12,000-seat stadium in the Créitel. The stadium was almost full, with excited fans of all ages waving the French Tricolore flags that were left at each seat.
A large group of Chinese fans were also in the crowd, with flags, matching shirts, and a megaphone, cheering on every breakaway by the Steel Roses.
France won the match 2-1 as both teams worked out their final kinks before the World Cup begins.
Follow Jessica’s journey in real time at @jessicamalone85.