France 3-1 England
By Ben Gilby
The Lionesses’ poor run of results continued after they fell to defeat to France in Caen.
Whilst England looked menacing coming forward throughout, they came unstuck at the back with an inability to defend high balls into the box, particularly in the first half and suffered a highly questionable penalty being given against Rachel Daly just after the hour.
France came into this game beset by Covid related challenges. All of their Olympique Lyonnais based players were unable to be selected for the squad due to an outbreak of the virus at the club and were forced into quarantine. Therefore, coach Corinne Diacre named a starting line-up which was considerably different to one which may have taken to the field had it not been for coronavirus.
The French started with intent and forced a corner within the first forty seconds with Marie-Antoinette Katoto heading wide.
It was very soon apparent that any set-piece or high ball into the England box would cause far more problems than should be expected for a team able to field the players that Hege Riise’s can.
Another French corner just after the twenty minute mark led to chaos in the Lionesses defence. Ellie Roebuck came to claim the corner as it came in, got nowhere near it and Kadidiatou Diani headed over.
England moved forward shortly afterwards when Fran Kirby pounced on a loose pass from Perle Morroni and fed Ellen White, whose effort was comfortably dealt with. But more lose touch from the home side enabled Nikita Parris to gather possession and unleash a fierce effort which led to a corner. The resulting flag kick saw the ball come back to Parris whose effort forced another corner.
There were more worrying signs in the England defence on the half hour mark. France earned a free kick out on the right when Leah Williamson fouled Diani. The ball in caused more panic stations but England escaped.
Sandy Baltimore’s influence was growing on the game and she offloaded a shot which Roebuck did well to tip over. The resulting corner led to the same chaotic defending and a poor attempt at a clearance allowed Everton’s Valerie Gauvin to have an effort.
After the Lionesses had a chance ruled out for offside, it was France who took the lead from a sweeping move. A long ball through from Diani came in, England couldn’t clear and Baltimore swept the ball home.
Nikita Parris continued to look the most threatening coming forward for England and, after Kirby had a shot blocked by the French defence, she got another fierce effort away which was blocked by Pauline Peyraud-Magnin’s feet.
In stoppage time at the end of the first half, each side gained another goal scoring opportunity. First, France when Millie Bright lost possession to Baltimore and despite Gauvin’s best efforts, she couldn’t quite get on the end of a dangerous ball in.
Parris had England’s last chance of the half when her header towards goal was wide of the mark.
The Lionesses started the second half on the front foot as Fran Kirby found Rachel Daly who fired just over.
England had now overcome their defensive woes of the first half and looked more comfortable at the back despite the technical skill shown by the France in attack, notably by Sandy Baltimore.
Jill Scott had the next scoring opportunity when she hit a shot over the bar after being laid off by the busy sub Chloe Kelly.
France hit back on the hour when Baltimore released Marie-Antoinette Katoto whose effort was pushed away for a corner by Ellie Roebuck.
Seconds later came a rather controversial penalty award for the hosts. Kadidiatou Diani’s strike was saved by Roebuck and amidst the follow up, Elisa De Almeida collided with Daly and went down with referee Sara Persson pointing to the spot. Up stepped substitute Vivianne Asseyi to slot home and France were 2-0 up.
England responded well with Lauren Hemp now in the action. She turned Marion Torrent and played a ball out to Kirby. Her pass through found Ellen White offside once more.
Hemp’s personal battle with Torrent continued and she won a foul from the French defender. Unfortunately Jordan Nobbs’ effort from a dangerous position was poor.
The third chapter of Hemp v Torrent ended in a penalty for England with the Norfolk born forward having her shirt pulled and receive a minor shove from the French defender. Fran Kirby slotted home the penalty.
It was the first goal France had conceded in 13½ hours of football and, indeed the first goal that Pauline Peyraud-Magnin had ever conceded for France in thirteen games.
Just two minutes later Hemp was involved again. This time she got down the left and played in a glorious ball to Keira Walsh, but her fierce effort rebounded back off of the post.
Sadly, that was as close as England would come. Asseyi and Diani were afforded far too much space down the right and from the latter’s low cross, Marie-Antoinette Katoto side footed home France’s third.
It was a curate’s egg of a performance from England. There was much to admire coming forward, but the same old defensive concerns that have lingered since the World Cup remain. This is a Lionesses team full of outstanding players who are capable of outstanding results. The confidence of a win against an established nation is vital. Canada in Stoke on Tuesday night provides that opportunity.
Teams: FRANCE: 21) Pauline Peyraud-Magnin, 4) Marion Torrent, Aissatou Tounkara, 22) Elisa De Almeida, 23) Perle Morroni, 11) Kadidiatou Diani, 8) Grace Geyoro, 14) Ella Palis, 17) Sandy Baltimore, 12) Marie-Antoinette Katoto, 13) Valerie Gauvin. Substitutes used: 2) Eve Perisset (for Torrent 85), 6) Ines Jaurena (for Palis 60), 15) Kenza Dali (for Diani 85), 18) Viviane Asseyi (for Gauvin 59).
Scorers: Baltimore 32, Asseyi pen 63, Katoto 82.
ENGLAND: 1) Ellie Roebuck, 2) Rachel Daly, 3) Alex Greenwood, 4) Keira Walsh, 5) Millie Bright, 6) Leah Williamson, 7) Nikita Parris, 8) Jill Scott, 9) Ellen White, 10) Fran Kirby, 11) Beth Mead. Substitutes used: 12) Niamh Charles (for Greenwood 45), 15) Lotte Wubben Moy (for Williamson 64), 17) Chloe Kelly (for Parris 45), 18) Jordan Nobbs (for Scott 73), 19) Beth England (for White 74), 23) Lauren Hemp (for Mead 64)
Scorer: Kirby pen 79.