Match Report: France 3-1 England

On the afternoon of The Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip’s passing, the FA announced that the evening’s scheduled match between France and England would indeed go ahead as planned.

In what was interim head coach Hege Riise’s, most competitive fixture to date, the Lionesses lined up against a slightly depleted French squad. The current Covid-19 situation in France meant that a large number of regular starters, namely from Lyon, were not able to partake in the match.

England and Manchester City skipper Steph Houghton was not selected as part of Riise’s April squad due to injury. Fellow City teammate Ellen White was named as captain in Houghton’s absence. Fullbacks Lucy Bronze and Demi Stokeswere ruled out from the evening’s selection with minor injuries.

Broadcasting moved from BBC Four to BBC iPlayer due to the day’s events. The Lionesses took to the field wearingblack armbands and completed a minute’s silence beneath a photograph of the late Duke prior to kick-off.

After a fairly uneventful first few moments, the first chance of the match fell to France on the five-minute mark. The quick pace of the French forward line pounce on an error made by the English side as Valerie Gauvin thunders up the left wing in possession before releasing the ball into the box. Millie Bright is able to get a foot to it and push it out for a corner. This was to become a common theme throughout the first half, the Lionesses getting caught on the counter as France seized sloppy mistakes.  

England’s first chance fell to Beth Mead at 13 minutes as the winger took an ambitious shot set up by a pass just outside of the box from Fran Kirby. Mead’s shot is easily dealt with by Pauline Peyraud- Magnin.

England find themselves with another chance through a fiery shot from Nikita Parris as a momentarily lulled France allow an opening. Once again, the ball is cleared by Peyraud-Magnin. France then begin to gather steam and cause an awful lot of problems for England’s back four. Goalkeeper Ellie Roebuck also finds herself in hot water after making two consecutive errors, yet still the score remains level.

England rouse as the clock tips half an hour and Keira Walsh slides in a well-timed ball to a running Mead. Mead squares it into the box as Ellen White slots it into the back of the net. Yet the whistle blows as the ball crosses the line, White was offside – goal disallowed.

As the panning game would suggest, France respond immediately as England shake off the decision. The French side waste no time in speedily dribbling the ball along the right wing, stretching England immensely. After taking the ball the length of the pitch, it is pulled back into the box where Sandy Baltimore fires a snarling shot around Roebuck into the top left corner. France open the scoresheet at thirty-one minutes.

What follows are chances created and missed by both sides, notably for Gauvin who skies a pinpoint cross over the bar,and Parris who misdirects an open header up the other end. The half finishes with France one ahead.

After the break, England have made two substitutions, one offensive with Chloe Kelly replacing Parris, and one defensive with Niamh Charles replacing Alex Greenwood. France’s side remains unchanged. Just over a minute after the whistle has blown, Rachel Daly, who has switched from right-back to left, sends in a fiery left footed shot that lifts just above the crossbar.

A nasty looking injury then halts play as Gauvin twists an ankle when preparing to jump. The Everton forward, who has suffered long term injuries before, looks to be in pain but remains on the pitch for the time being.

On the hour mark, Roebuck is forced into action once again as Baltimore dances through the English defence before laying the ball off to Katoto who sends in the shot. This time, Roebuck is able to tip it out of play. France are then awarded a penalty after a collision in the box after a scramble for a rebounded ball. Substitute Viviane Asseyi stands over the ball to take her first touch of the match, sends in a calm penaltyand France are two nil up.

Yet, the pendulum began to swing the other way with just over ten minutes to go. Lauren Hemp is brought down in the box by France’s captain for the day, Marion Torrent. With England’s usual penalty takers absent, Kirby walks up to take the spot kick. Never in doubt, the Cheslea star places a delicate low ball in the bottom left-hand corner. France 2, England 1.

England then begin to look a little more dangerous, their goal noticeably lifting spirits. Yet these were to be short lived as France once again take advantage of a disorganised English formation. Kadidiatou Diana runs the flank the pitch before slipping around Arsenal centre half, Lotte Wubben-Moy. She then passes it inside to Katoto, who is able to gently tap it into the net. The final whistle blows and it is France – 3, England – 1.

Not the ideal start for Hege Riise, yet on a more positive note, the match did reveal areas that need improvement which is key for progression. What was possibly most concerning was that an almost full and fit England was not able to really test a weakened side France, even when retaining around sixty percent of possession.

England’s defensive holes and their sluggishness in snapping back to the ‘present’ after suffering disappointment in their attack was ultimately their downfall and France very quickly learned how to exploit this. Let the Lionesses do the hard work and punish them on the counter attack when they are transitorily out of shape.

England certainly possess the individual defensive talent to perform to a higher standard than was shown tonight. Having not played together since March 2020, except from a recent friendly against Northern Ireland, will have no doubt contributed to this inconsistency. Furthermore, looking higher up the pitch, there were most definitely some pleasurable moments. Midfielder Keira Walsh made excellent decisions on the ball, Fran Kirby was instrumental in producing creative passages of play and substitute Lauren Hemp’s presence was immediately uplifting.

Now is the time to dust off the cobwebs and work out the kinks as we look forward to the Olympics and the Euro’s 2022.

The Lionesses will now face Canada on Tuesday at 7:15pm (BST).

France: Peyraud-Magnin (GK), Torrent (C) (84’), Tounkara, De Almeida, Morroni, Palis (59’), Geyoro, Baltimore, Diani, Gauvin (59’), Katoto

France Substitutes: Durrand (GK), Picaud, Asseyi (59’), Dali, Deslandes, Fleury, Kazadi, Jaurena (59’), Jean-Francois, Khelifi, Le Sommer, Perisset (84’), Thibaud

Goals: Baltimore – 31’ Asseyi (p) – 63’ Katoto – 82’

England: Roebuck (GK), Daly, Williamson (63’), Bright, Greenwood(45’), Walsh, Scott (72’), Kirby, Mead (63’), White (C) (72’), Parris (45’)

England Substitutes: MacIver (GK), Telford (GK), Bardsley (GK), Charles (45’), Turner, Wubben-Moy (63’), Morgan, Toone, Nobbs (72’), Stanway, Kelly (45’), Hemp (63’), England (72’)

Goals: Kirby – 78’