U.S. goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher had to take the ball of her net on three occasions. (Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)
LE HAVRE, France – It wasn’t the way the U.S. women’s national team would have preferred to open its account for 2019, not by a long shot.
The Americans kicked off its pre-Women’s World Cup with a 3-1 defeat to tournament hosts, France, at Stade Océane in front of raucous sold-out crowd of 23,000.
The loss snapped a 28-game unbeaten streak. The USA’s last lost came to Australia, 1-0, in July 2017.
Several U.S. players were precautionarily unavailable. The list included Megan Rapinoe, Tobin Heath, Casey Short and Julie Ertz due to minor injuries. Kelley O’Hara is returning from ankle surgery, but not yet game ready.
Kadidiatou Diani struck twice for the winners.
Diani put the hosts on the goard with a ninth-minute goal after the USA turned the ball over in its attacking third. France sprung a counter attack down the right side as Delphine Cascarino sprinted past left back Emily Fox to win the ball and took it to the end line before cutting it back in the box for Diani. She bodied off a U.S. defender as she collected the ball and then hit a low shot into the lower left corner from nine yards for her fifth international goal.
Meanwhille, the USA was able to get a few chances with Christen Press leading the way on the left wing.
In the second half, the USA came out determined and began to get into France’s final third, with a good chance coming around the 50th minute.
In the 56th minute, however, Diani showed off some brilliant individual play and netted her second of the match for the 2-0 advantage. Diani ran onto a ball in the right side of the penalty area and sent a deft chip over goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher, dropping it into the net just inside the right post.
France’s 20-year-old Marie-Antoinette Katoto added a third goal in the 79th minute. After a U.S. giveaway at midfielder, Katoto latched onto an Élise Bussaglia pass and outraced two defenders before she dribbled around Naeher and rolled the ball to the back of the net from a tight angle.
Mallory Pugh saved the U.S. the embarrassment of a shutout finished off a good passing sequence — the last pass by second-half substitute Carli Lloyd — with a well-taken shot across the face of goal into the lower right corner a minute into stoppage time.
The U.S. travels to the southern tip of the Iberian penninsula to face Spain in Alicante Tuesday (2:30 p.m. ET; ESPN2 & UDN) at Estadio José Rico Pérez. The match will be the first in history between the teams.