Karchaoui: I have the soul of a competitor

Sakina Karchaoui spent most of France 2019 on the bench "It was very enriching," says the French international She has since become a starter for Lyon and Les Bleues

"I didn't play much at that World Cup, but at the risk of surprising a fair few people, it was a very enriching experience and I feel a lot stronger today." So says Sakina Karchaoui as she recounts her memories of the FIFA Women's World Cup...

Sakina Karchaoui spent most of France 2019 on the bench "It was very enriching," says the French international She has since become a starter for Lyon and Les Bleues

"I didn't pʟᴀʏ ᴍᴜᴄʜ ᴀᴛ thᴀᴛ Wᴏʀld Cᴜᴘ, ʙᴜᴛ ᴀᴛ tʜᴇ rɪsk ᴏꜰ surprɪsɪɴg a fᴀɪʀ ꜰᴇᴡ ᴘᴇᴏᴘʟᴇ, ɪᴛ wᴀs a ᴠᴇʀʏ enʀɪᴄʜɪɴg ᴇxᴘᴇʀɪᴇɴᴄᴇ ᴀɴd I ꜰᴇᴇʟ a ʟᴏᴛ strᴏɴger ᴛᴏᴅᴀʏ." So sᴀʏs Sakɪɴa Karchaoui ᴀs sʜᴇ reᴄᴏᴜɴᴛs ʜᴇr ᴍᴇmᴏʀies ᴏꜰ tʜᴇ FIFA Woᴍᴇn's Wᴏʀld Cᴜᴘ Frᴀɴce 2019™ ᴛᴏ FIFA.com. If ᴀɴythɪɴg, tʜᴇ 24-yᴇᴀʀ-ᴏʟᴅ ɪs ʙᴇɪɴg eᴜᴘʜᴇmɪstic ᴀʙᴏᴜᴛ ʜᴇr cᴏɴtriʙᴜᴛiᴏɴ, wɪᴛh ʜᴇr sᴏle ᴀᴘᴘᴇᴀʀᴀɴce comɪɴg ᴀs a 118th-mɪɴute substɪᴛute ɪɴ Frᴀɴce's 2-1 Round ᴏꜰ 16 victᴏʀy ᴀɢᴀɪɴst Brazil.

"It was very tough to be on the bench," adds Karchaoui, who was sidelined as coach Corinne Diacre opted for Amel Majri at left-back. "But those who know me know that I respected the decisions of the coach and that I fought hard in every training session and helped my team right to the end." Ultimately that came in the quarter-finals, when the hosts' trophy dreams were crushed in a 2-1 defeat by USA.

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© Getty Images Hungry like Lyon

For Karchaoui, however, the story did not end there. "I could have acted like a victim and let it get me down – or worked twice as hard to reclaim my place," explains the pacy defender, voted best young talent in the French top flight by the National Union of Professional Footballers (UNFP) in 2017. "I chose the second option, and I had a good season afterwards with Montpellier and won back my place as a starter in the France team. Mental attitude is very important. Football's a game that isn't just played with your feet."

That determination earned Karchaoui a move to Lyon this summer, and shortly after joining she found herself in the starting XI for the resumption of the UEFA Women's Champions League. "It wasn't easy. Everyone wanted to beat Lyon and it all came down to a single knockout game in each round. I played the final with confidence. I'm only 24 but I have quite a lot of experience at the highest level. I have the soul of a competitor, so it was always my ambition to play when I came to Lyon. I really didn't see myself on the bench."

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The French side went on to claim their seventh European title and fifth in succession, though for Karchaoui it represented a thrilling first. "Winning a trophy like that was something new for me," she says, recalling the triumph with a smile. "The emotions were extraordinary." Her new club is clearly not tired of those sensations either, having also clinched their 14th consecutive French crown last season.

"We have a president who's on our side and who gives the women's team huge support. Our working conditions are excellent. The training sessions are more intense and you have to be mentally prepared when you walk into that dressing room. Everything we do, we do it to win. Personally, I love working hard so I feel right at home."

Allies on the left

Karchaoui is now a regular team-mate of one-time rival Majri, with the duo linking up down the left for both club and country. Majri made it clear she no longer wanted to play in defence after France's disappointing World Cup campaign, and her partnership with Karchaoui is flourishing. As she explained a few months ago, "I get on well with Sakina and you can see that on the pitch. We have an understanding and we read the game the same way. She's able to get forward and I can fill in to compensate."

Next up for France are a pair of UEFA Women's EURO 2022 qualifiers, with North Macedonia awaiting on Friday before a meeting with Austria next Tuesday. Although Amandine Henry's exclusion from the squad has caused tension between Diacre and her Lyon contingent, the burgeoning connection of France's two left-footed livewires suggests a bright future ahead. "Right now, my focus is firmly on the qualifiers for EURO 2022," vows Karchaoui, who has done everything right to banish the pain of France 2019 – and ensure she is on the pitch for Les Bleues' upcoming adventures.

© Getty Images Did you know?

Karchaoui very nearly became a world champion. During France's superb campaign at the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup in 2016, she was one of Les Bleuettes' key players until she picked up a head injury against Japan in the semi-finals. In her absence, her team-mates suffered a 3-1 loss to Korea DPR in the final, but several members of that side – including Karchaoui, Valerie Gauvin, Grace Geyoro and Delphine Cascarino – have now become regulars at senior level.