With England having to rely on a late goal from Toni Duggan to give them a lifeline, the game against France was definitely a must win. Going into the game, the players knew that they could go through with a draw but they would have to win the lottery.
England have never beaten France in a competitive game, but they did make France go to the bitter end last time they played competitively. The players would also take comfort from the last time these sides met in a friendly last year when England literally gave away a 2-0 lead.
However, France have looked impressive in the games against Russia and Spain and had already secured the place in the last eight as group winners.
In the first few minutes, England looked as if they would go for it because they played with high intensity, but they didn’t pull the trigger for all of the first half. However, after the short spell of England pressure, the French came back and were given a warning sign by their tall centre back Renard. The lionesses didn’t learn their lesson and conceded in the ninth minute after Le Sommer was allowed to turn in the box and slot it beyond Bardsley.
In the first goal, there was plenty of mistakes from England with Williams not getting enough contact on her tackle as well as Houghton not getting back quick enough. Also Casey Stoney didn’t close down Le Sommer and let her get her shot away.
Another chance for France came shortly after when their captain fired a shot inches over the bar to give Bardsley a scare. France repeatedly hit on the counter attack with Thomis and her pace. Whenever England showed any intention of attacking, France raced down the field and it became a one woman wall in the defence with Bardsley looking unstoppable.
England failed to string any passes together in the first half and the one player who looked as if they could pick out a pass was Williams who didn’t see much of the ball. Going into half time, England would have been happy only losing by one goal, France simply outclassed us.
The pundits were saying that an early goal could change everything and the momentum could shift and I had to agree. Unfortunately for England this didn’t happen and France looked certain to score and seal a 100% record in the group.
We improved slightly by defending higher up the field and as soon as Powell saw we might have a chance of getting back into the game, she brought on the reliable Kelly Smith. But as soon as Smith was brought on, France found a second with a great strike from Necib who is known as the female Zidane. Necib simply curled it into the top corner to give the keeper no chance.
Shortly after France got their second, they eliminated England with a third from Renard’s header who jumped a lot higher than any of the English players around her. The gap in class was obvious to see. The glimmer of hope had vanished in a matter of minutes, it was the nail in the coffin.
When France got their third, they threatened to run riot and Le Sommer should have got her second when she fizzed a shot just wide of the mark. Substitute Jess Clarke did provide an attacking spark for her country but it wasn’t going to trouble the likes of Renard.
There was a chance for England when White was in space in the box, but probably due to her lack of confidence she shot straight at the keeper. This was the last chance of a poor England tournament to salvage anything to shout about.
At the start of the game, France made six changes to rest some players for the quarter finals but that meant the players who came into the side wanted to show what they were made of.
On the other hand, England had made three changes with Bradley, Carney and Duggan all coming in for Barnett, Yankey and Scott. Sophie Bradley was a risk taking into the game because she suffered an injury two weeks ago in the friendly against the hosts which could have ruled her out for up to six weeks. Carney came in for Yankey due to her injury and Duggan came in simply because she added something extra to the side and scored the goal.
Toni Duggan and Ellen White didn’t get any supply at all in the game so they couldn’t make much of an impact. We couldn’t string passes together,and we didn’t defend to the best of our ability. As much as we were poor, you can’t take anything away from France. It was a masterclass on how to play the game.
My woman of the match from an England point of view was Karen Bardsley because if it wasn’t for her we would have been out of the game inside the first half an hour. She made save after save and has improved since that mistake against Spain. Female keepers have been criticised recently by the media because they haven’t improved as fast as the outfield players.
This reminded me a lot of the game in South Africa 3 years ago when England were knocked out by the Germans. The best player was the goalie and we performed poorly and were outclassed. Another typical England tournament but just that little bit worse.
France definitely showed why they are one of the favourites, and more importantly England showed why they are bottom of Group C.