Indyplus update: England v France


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The Independent Online

England are out of the Women’s European Championship finals after being totally outclassed by a France team who rested six key players.

It was the worst major tournament performance by Hope Powell’s team since 2001, when they also went out of the competition with just a single point from three group games.

Fifteen years after taking charge, Powell’s future as the national coach may come into question following a third disappointing display in Linkoping, given the intense scrutiny that goes hand in hand with the most extensive media coverage the women’s team has ever been afforded.

A goal down after 10 minutes, and with good support in a sell-out crowd here, England never looked capable of beating France for the first time in 13 meetings over the last 39 years.

Eugénie Le Sommer, Louisa Nécib and Wendie Renard were the scorers in a game in which French goalkeeper Céline Deville did not have a single shot to save.

“The players went into the game believing they could get something out of it,” Powell said .”We came out of the blocks and really had a go. It was a gallant effort but unfortunately not enough, and we’re all bitterly disappointed.

“I’m very proud of the players. We came here with the very best of intentions but at the end of the day we have to accept that we weren’t quite good enough. We struggled in the tournament. We put in some brave efforts, but we didn’t quite click.

"I have a big job, five teams [including age levels], I love working in this environment I’ll take time to digest and reflect. I’m in this role and we we’ve got to think about the Under-19 Euro finals next month and the World Cup qualifiers in September, so it’s important we regroup and go again.

"We will reflect – there’s no point in saying ‘right, we’ve reached our peak,’ because we haven’t. It’s important we try and keep up with this nations that are surging ahead and France and Spain are two of those nations – and make sure we’re not left behind. And we won’t be, because we’ll bounce back."

In a vain attempt to attain the victory that was required to ensure a place in the quarter-finals, Powell had made three changes to the starting line-up which had underachieved in the first two group outings – a 3-2 defeat by Spain and a 1-1 draw with Russia – and the coach also switched the formation from her favoured  4-2-3-1 to 4-4-2. But against a France team that made even more changes – the coach, Bruno Bini, resting players as his team had already won Group C with maximum points from their first two outings – England were second best from the kick-off.

It took just eight minutes for the striker Le Sommer to hit the post from 20 yards, and two minutes later she pressed home France’s obvious advantage by scoring from inside the penalty area after being allowed far too much time and space following a run through the England defence by the right winger Élodie Thomis.

Captain Sandrine Soubeyrand,  40 next month but controlling the game as imperiously as she had during France’s penalty shoot-out victory over England at the 2011 World Cup, almost doubled the lead with a 20-yard drive that flashed narrowly over the bar. Moments later Thomis had a shot from a narrow angle saved by the diving Karen Bardsley.

The goalkeeper then had to tip a 22nd-minute effort by Nécib over the bar as Powell’s team struggled to contain wave after wave of attacks. The speedy Thomis, running the defence ragged whenever she got on the ball, went close again as France continued to dominate an England team that failed to produce a single opening in the first half. Not until 11 minutes after the break, when striker Ellen White’s shot was deflected wide by the centre-back Renard, did Powell’s team trouble the opposing defence.

But England were soon out of the game as they conceded two goals in as many minutes, Nécib striking home the first from 18 yards before the central defender Renard headed in Nécib’s 64th-minute corner.