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In Olympic semifinals, French women's football team wants more than 'chocolate medals'

08/04/2012 09:08 EDT | Updated 10/04/2012 05:12 EDT
NEWCASTLE, England - France has managed to reach the semifinals of a major women's football tournament for the second time in a row. This time it wants more than just the consolation prize.

France came from behind to defeat Sweden 2-1 in the Olympic quarterfinals on Friday, matching their final-four appearance from last year's World Cup.

It was a surprising achievement to make it that far then. But not this time.

Coach Bruno Bini said the French are true contenders at the London Games and don't want to leave the competition empty handed.

"We just hope it won't be like the last time, when we returned with the chocolate medals," he said. "We just want to win the gold medal."

The French seemed satisfied when they reached the semifinals in Germany in 2011, eventually losing 3-1 to the United States. Then they also lost to Sweden in the third-place match to finish fourth.

France's national team continued improving since that remarkable campaign, getting into its first Olympic participation at the London Games as an outside contender for a medal.

"We have just continued the progression of women's football," Bini said. "We were among the six favourites, but now we are just in the last four going for the medals."

France knows it will have a difficult time making the final this time as it will face defending World Cup champion Japan, which eliminated gold-medal favourite Brazil in one of the other quarterfinals on Friday.

Defender Laura Georges, who scored one of the team's goals against Sweden at Hampden Park in Glasgow, said the experience from last year's World Cup will likely make a difference.

"This France team is stronger now," Georges said. "We know we have to be patient during games and keep up the pace. It was hard for us to lose against the U.S. in the semifinals of the World Cup last year but it has helped us. We learned real lessons."

Georges said France will have to "step up" its game if it wants to reach the final of the London Games and secure a medal.

Sweden coach Thomas Dennerby said after his team's loss that the French will have a tough road ahead to try to win the gold.

"France is a good team but I know there are really strong opponents coming," he said. "If they can win the semifinal my guess is they are going to play the U.S. in the final. It's tough but if you believe you always have a chance to come through and go all the way."

The United States, the two-time defending Olympic champion, defeated New Zealand 2-0 Friday to set up a semifinal against Canada, which eliminated host Britain 2-0.

The French, led by playmaker Louisa Necib and speedy strikers Elodie Thomis and Marie-Laure Delie, will play Japan in London, which means the team will get to stay at the Olympic Village to the delight of the players.

The only one likely not happy was former French table tennis player and Olympian Jean-Philippe Gatien, who had a bet going with coach Bini.

"I have to call Gatien because he told me that he would prepare all the beds if we made it to the Olympic Village," Bini said. "So he will have to prepare 35 beds."

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Follow Tales Azzoni at http://twitter.com/tazzoni

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