France’s Grace Geyoro could be Euro 2022 breakout star after 2019 World Cup disappointment

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In the stands of the Rotherham United’s New York stadium, Angelique Geyoro can hardly retain her tears. On the pitch, her daughter Grace has just scored a hat trick for France against Italy in what was an incredible first-half performance. Sat next to her is Victoria, the younger sister of the French playmaker, who cannot believe her eyes either. After her third goal, the PSG midfielder did the heart sign with her hands while looking in their direction as France went on to complete a 5-1 win.

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Lawson: Geyoro makes history as France thrash Italy

Family is everything for Grace Geyoro, in the good times as well as the bad. Three weeks before the Italy game, she twisted her knee at training at Clairefontaine, leaving the pitch in tears. For some time, she feared she would miss the start of the tournament, and maybe even more than just the opening group game. She sat out Les Bleues‘ two friendly matches against Vietnam and Cameroon before flying to England. Despite all those major moments of doubt, she took the field in Rotherham for her 50th international cap, six weeks after her last competitive game, and stepped up in style to deliver when her country needed her the most.

Last week, when she celebrated her 25th birthday with the rest of the squad at the France HQ and blew out the candles on a cake prepared by the France chef, maybe she wished for a goal and victory over Italy. But three goals, and such an emphatic demonstration of attacking football against a solid Squadra Azzurra? Never: after all, the PSG midfielder had never scored a hat trick in her career. In her previous 49 caps, she had netted only eight times!

“She was amazing. Maybe she should get injured more often,” joked manager Corinne Diacre after Geyoro’s performance. If the No. 8 is able to make her very serious head coach indulge in such banter, she must really be pretty special.

As fantastic as she was — L’Equipe newspaper gave her a fabled 9/10 rating after she became the first player ever to score a first-half hat trick at the Euros — this kind of breakout performance was coming.

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The turning point for Geyoro was undoubtedly the 2019 World Cup in France. After being a starter at the 2017 Euros, she managed only 18 minutes in the entire tournament two years later. She was hurt, disappointed and frustrated that she missed the biggest stage of her promising career to date. She swore to herself that it would never happen again, and so began her evolution.

Geyoro had the drive and desire to be better, more mature and more responsible. Until 2019, everything had seemed to go her way, and pretty easily, too. She joined PSG at 15, made her debut with the team in 2014 and was quickly capped at the international level. She was only going up and yet, perhaps, she took it for granted. In the end, her inability to make a name in 2019 felt like a big slap in the face and so, she worked a lot on herself.

Geyoro spent time with Diacre and with Olivier Echouafni, her manager in Paris between 2018 and 2021, to understand what she had to do to get to the next level. Her talent was never an issue; because she was young, it was obvious that she was one of the best players of her generation. So, it had to be an issue of confidence and mindset. Her coaches noted that she needed to show her leadership and express it on and off the pitch, imposing herself in midfield for club and country and playing like a leader.

In that sense, being given the captain’s armband at PSG last season changed everything. “It all clicked. It made me express myself more. I needed more responsibilities and I got them,” Geyoro said after the Italy game. It also turned out to be a tough season in Paris for the newly elected captain, with the situation between Aminata Diallo and Kiera Hamraoui (the former was accused of orchestrating an attack on the latter after a training session last November) causing stress and distraction within the squad, but Geyoro learned quickly and did a great job despite her club falling just short in Ligue 1 (second place, behind Lyon) and in Europe (losing to Lyon, again, in the semifinals). Yet Geyoro showed great maturity and composure, as if she’d been the captain for 10 years!

“I know my family is proud to see how far I got at PSG and the role I have. Now I have to do the same with France,” she added.

Her performance in an eye-opening 5-1 win was the best possible start for both Geyoro and France, but consistency will be the key now. She will have to repeat this kind of performance regularly, especially in big games. In France’s 4-3-3 formation, she can play a more attacking role in midfield; with Charlotte Bilbault and Sandie Toletti forming a strong structure behind her, there’s more freedom to go forward and make late runs into the box as she did for her first and third goals against Italy. The fact that she plays for Les Bleues with her PSG teammates and best friends Kadidiatou Diani and Marie-Antoinette Katoto on her right and in front of her, is huge. They know each other so well and combine so well with each other, as Italy learned up close on Sunday night.

From here, Geyoro has all the tools to kick on and make this Euros her own. Before leaving the New York stadium on Sunday, she had another wish: “I hope that the rest will be as magical as tonight …” Time will tell, starting with their second group stage game against Belgium this Thursday.

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