England fell to an ironic defeat in this women's World Cup play-off final, first leg as the Philadelphia Charge striker Marinette Pichon hit the only goal, a low shot from 18 yards 15 minutes from time, while England's best player, Pichon's Philadelphia captain, Kelly Smith, sat in the stands nursing a cruciate ligaments injury.
The defeat was only England's second in eight competitive matches and was less than deserved by Hope Powell's team, who certainly missed the attacking skills of Smith.
But though France were regarded as favourites following their play-off semi-final victory over Euro 2001 semi-finalists Denmark, England took the initiative from the start. The captain Karen Walker just failed to lift a fifth-minute lob over the goalkeeper Celine Marty with sufficient accuracy, then seven minutes later the midfielder Sammy Britton struck a 20-yard effort wide.
But as the first half settled neither the home side nor the visitors were able to create a clear-cut opening and the first shot on target did not arrive until the 33rd minute, when the French midfielder Sandrine Soubeyrand's 20-yard free-kick was comfortably saved under the bar by Pauline Cope.
England opened the second half brightly, but final passes failed to bring success, first when Walker's through-ball for the substitute Sue Smith was cut out by Sabrina Viguier, then when Amanda Barr over-hit a pass to her well-placed strike partner Walker.
Pichon's strike gives the French a crucial advantage to take into the second leg at St Etienne on 16 November.
ENGLAND (4-4-2): Cope (Charlton Athletic); Stoney (Charlton Athletic), White (Arsenal), Phillip (Fulham), Unitt (Fulham); Burke (Leeds United), Britton (Leeds United), Williams (Charlton Athletic), Yankey (Fulham); Walker (Doncaster Belles), Barr (Charlton Athletic). Substitutes: Exley (Doncaster Belles) for Britton, 66, Moore (Fulham) for Burke, 78, Smith (Leeds United) fir Yankey h-t,
FRANCE (4-4-2): Marty; Viguier, Diacre, Riera, Provost; Mugneret-Beghe, Woock, Soubeyrand, Bompastor; Pichon, Lattaf.
Referee: V Karlsen (Norway).