Diacre defends leaving Katoto out of France's WCup squad

FILE - In this Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019 file photo, France women's soccer head coach Corinne Diacre during a press conference in Paris. Coach Corinne Diacre has defended her decision to leave out Paris Saint-Germain striker Marie-Antoinette Katoto from France Women's World Cup squad. France will host the tournament from June 7, 2019 to July 7, 2019. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena, File)

Coach Diacre defends leaving Katoto out of France's Women's World Cup squad

PARIS — They share the same age — 20 — and both are prolific scorers for Paris Saint-Germain. But unlike her male counterpart Kylian Mbappe, Marie-Antoinette Katoto is not going to experience any World Cup glory with France.

For now at least.

"She's got talent but at the moment she doesn't express it at 100%," said France coach Corinne Diacre. "She'll play in other World Cups."

Diacre's surprise decision to leave Katoto out of host France's Women's World Cup squad is a gamble for the coach. Katoto is the French league's top scorer with 22 goals and has netted 30 in 28 games overall for PSG this season.

Mbappe is also PSG's star striker and tops the scoring charts, the year after rocketing to fame by helping France win the men's World Cup in Russia.

Such a fairytale won't be repeated for Katoto when France hosts the June 7-July 7 tournament.

Diacre acknowledged the striker's "enormous potential" but also said Katoto hadn't done enough to impress in the big games.

Katoto failed to score in either leg against Chelsea in the Champions League quarterfinal defeat this season. Against domestic rival Lyon, she missed a late chance when PSG lost in the French Cup semifinals. In their two league games, she failed to score in a 1-1 home draw and was taken off in the 5-0 defeat at Lyon last month.

Still, the decision to leave her out surprised many — and could upset Katoto's teammates in the national side.

"It was a difficult choice, but I made it and I stand by it," Diacre said after announcing her squad on Thursday night to a TV audience of five million. "It's certain that if we don't win the World Cup, I will be reproached for it."

The decision came a week after Katoto scored four goals in a league game, but starring against modest opposition was not going to sway the 44-year-old Diacre.

She still had in mind Katoto's disappointing performances for France at the Under-20 World Cup in France last year. Katoto captained the side for the first two games of that tournament, but failed to score. She was then dropped from the starting lineup as France went out in the semifinals and was beaten by England in the third-place playoff.

Diacre captained the national team during her playing career as a defender, and made 121 appearances for France. She took charge of the national team two years ago, but had already shown her steely streak before.

Five years ago, the spotlight was firmly on her when she took charge of second-tier side Clermont, and in doing so became the first woman to coach a men's team in a competitive match in France.

For the Women's World Cup squad of 23, Diacre also surprised observers by calling up 20-year-old Guingamp striker Emelyne Laurent, who has only three international caps but possesses speed which could be a major asset coming off the bench.

"She can bring us a lot," Diacre said. "We didn't have this type of player, who can break into the penalty area and win a penalty if we need to get back into the game."

Diacre's lineup is likely to be a 4-2-3-1 formation with Montpellier's Valerie Gauvin at center forward with a wealth of experience supporting her in a strong attack.

Gaetane Thiney, who has scored 58 goals in 154 international appearances, will be sitting behind Gauvin in a playmaker role, flanked by the prolific Eugenie Le Sommer on the left (74 goals in 159 appearances) and PSG's Kadidiatou Diani (7 in 45) on the right.

Lyon's imposing and goal-scoring center half Wendie Renard (20 in 108) is the undisputed leader of the back four, while club teamate Amandine Henry captains the side from center midfield.

France begins its bid to win the tournament for the first time on June 7 against South Korea at Parc des Princes in Paris.

Diacre says French Football Federation president Noel Le Graet has set her the target of reaching the final on July 7 in Lyon.

"It doesn't frighten me, for me it will be a failure not to get there," Diacre said. "I haven't seen any teams that scare me."

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