2017 European Championships:
England – France 1:0

Situation:

The preview here has a more detailed description of the situation. In short, France bid to win a quarter final yet again after the EC, WC and Olympics in 2013, 15 and 16. But they had made it more difficult for themselves by finishing only second in their group behind surprise group winners Austria. They got even mightily close to missing out on the first two spots totally.
England however won all three of their group matches and seemed to have the momentum on their side. And after Germany had been defeated earlier the day and Sweden the day before it meant that the winner of this match would be the only FIFA-top10 ranked team left in the competition.

Headline: Way paved for England now?

So after this win it looks like not so much in Englands way now anymore? Given the FIFA rankings they are favorites and the title seems to be theirs for the taking. But attention. Nothing is for granted here and of course especially the Netherlands will have there own plans in the upcoming semi. France have played their best match of the tournament by far. But like expected and like in Rio. It is also the path to the title that plays a role. They had to play England this time in the quarters and it proofed to be too much. But England are on the same difficult path. Probably most difficult opponent in the quarters. Probably most difficult opponent in the semis. Lets see if and how they can deal with it. However. This path was bad luck for England while France wasted their chances for something else.

What happened on the pitch

Rarely any championship tournament has the final as being the best match. And there are always matches that are called “worth a final” before. At least that was also true here for our two pre-tournament favorites. At least the tempo and the intensity of the duels was another level compared to the other three quarter finals. Because finally France managed to up their level significantly. The match though went nevertheless pretty much along the expected way. But there have been exceptions.
The first thing that became clear early on was that France played better then in all their previous matches. That was to a certain degree however due to the fact that England tried to attack them with more bodies dedicated to advance and hold higher positions on the field. Thus leaving some spaces in their own half open for France to play into. We saw that not only in the shebel Cup earlier that year that France is only attacking well when there are open spaces for the forwards to run into. Swiftly attacking free spaces in the opposite half is also Lyon’s best chance to score against decent opponents.
So that was something that helped them a lot to leave these awkward games behind where they felt they ran against a brick wall at the opposite back line without finding any gaps.
But France also looked like a team that already had seen the dark spot of the abyss from very close range and now were happy to be still alive and all the more motivated to use their second chance. They played with much more urgency and looked like adding an additional 10% of effort into each and every duel compared to the group stage matches. So this time the dedication was there. And the fight was there. But the chances still were not.
It also was clear the times are over where France were good enough to play or combine their way through opponents of the quality of England. The first shot on goal was several minutes after half time. And England managed – like expected – at least to keep the French offense under the cosh.
Goalie Bardsley’s evening at least looked rather relaxing for quite some time.
But that was suddenly over. What had happened?
England scored the leading goal. Always lucky incidents needed in such a tight game and that the ball falls right to the right player at the right time. But the chain of events that led to the goal happened quite accordingly to the way that was the most likely it would.

First it was the player with the highest energy level who won the ball in midfield for England from a position where she wasn’t favorite to do so: Lucy Bronze. That caught the French defense by surprise and so they were not sorted. A pass to the right where Jodie Taylor had quite some free space. She didn’t make the best possible first contact maybe because she was afraid the French defense would get too close and so the angle towards the goal got quite a disadvantage but still she managed to make the most of the situation.

But it also all happened because the football gods added another chapter to the classic drama of French good-byes in the quarter finals. Or was it meant as a punishment for the forgotten faults? Sarah Bouhaddi like her English colleague on the other side hadn’t seen much of the ball and hadn’t played any major role in the game thus far. But we remember how often France again got lucky in the first group matches not to concede a goal out of her heavily extravagant plays. They would have been out already by now.
But now that all that seemed to be forgotten they took revenge even more cruelly. They punished not a big but one of the lesser faults but exactly the same like four years ago to remind them all the meaner of their quarter final fate.
Bouhaddi again speculated the wrong way and dedicated her reaction to one particular chance where the ball could go. Again instead of standing tall and covering up the main space of the goal as long as possible she dived down into one corner and thus couldn’t keep the ball out of the net what would have been easy otherwise. And the tip of the cake was she could even make heavy contact with her arm but just not quite enough.

France however seemed to be much better prepared mentally this time. Have the players been able to play through some alternatives before the match? They didn’t panic like against the Swiss. They didn’t take for granted nothing evil could happen like against Iceland and Austria.
They just put more energy in it to fight back.

And something came into play nobody had calculated. We don’t know why and how but France realized high crosses are a way to get dangerous and once they did they immediately started to utilize them especially from their right side and after set pieces. France kind of got the upper hand in the air of the English box despite Steph Houghton and Millie Bright in the center back (and Lucy Bronze and Jill Scott among the best header players in Europe too)

But that was the only way they got really dangerous and it wasn’t enough at the end despite some tumultuous situations in front of the English goal especially after crosses couldn’t be cleared. But after a last great header chance for Clarisse LeBihan in six minutes of stoppage time the final whistle was blown and England through.

Tactics

England - France tactical line-up
tactical line-up

Everything pretty much like expected and like we had it already: England’s back line: Bronze – Bright – Houghton – Stokes. Moore slightly in front of that. Scott in central midfield. Nobbs more to the right, White to the left. And Kirby behing the forward Jodie Taylor.
France with the back line of Houara – Georges – M’Bock – Karchaoui. Henry the deepest sitting midfielder then Geyoro and Abily. LeSommer left. Diani right. And Delie up front.

Interestingly the English line up worked exactly like the English line up was expected to work. And the future will show how much of that will be used to build upon it. There are no players who have a particular strength in playing the ball around and using technical advantages in ball possession (Fran Kirby maybe the only one who could). But this was kind of the fit they finally found. And there are no players who have a particular strength in speed or running past defenders in 1-vs-1 situations.
It was evident again that Jodie Taylor for example is not quite on level with the very top players like Miedema or Harder as anchor player up front to hold balls and wait for the others to follow up though that might be not easy to recognize with all the hype. Ellen White also lacks the quick movements of the extraordinary top players. And even Fran Kirby lacks a little bit more body power to make a ball safe and hold her ground. She can not quite totally make up for this by her good touch and clever behavior (again compared only to the absolute extraordinary international players).
But when you launch these three in a decent position they are all very clever to make the most effective use of a given situation and have a good eye for the best passing option to the team mate as well. And they also seem to understand what the other might go for and thus are good in making best use of passing options through the gaps in the opposite defenses. Something that is often needed for example to use second balls or winning the ball by pressing high up the pitch what is the strength of the English team.
Finally they won this game because exactly their strength in winning a ball in midfield and making the most of it immediately in a very straight and short way.
You however should be not too disappointed when they are not very good in playing a fluent passing combination game against strong defenses. But because they found this combination now for the first time they are also quite efficient up front what was so much missing over the last few years. However there will be set backs. And we will see how clever they will stick to it then.

Summary and Resume

France are out and Camille Abily has retired from international football. One of the great players who had been a big factor in the rise of French women’s football to the top nations in the last ten years. And also one of the players who managed to stay at top level and follow the massive improvement the game has mad since she won her first Champions League title back in 2012. But internationally there was no title for her with France. And so the goal against Switzerland that was needed to reach this quarter final match was her last highlight in the national team.
However there is a good young generation of players coming up for France to build upon. Main question for them until 2019 however will be the same like in recent years. What does the management do?

England are clear favorites now. Because their management have found an improvement in their offensive set up just in time before these championships after they had been good already but only in their play against the ball before. But there are two hurdles still standing in their way and none of them easy to take. This is the strongest team remaining in the competition but that does not mean the world. Their style is still depending on faults of the opposite defense. And despite having scored six times against Scotland there always remains a chance they will find it difficult to score on a bad day. But they have found some players whose strength is to need significantly less opportunities than most of the other teams to do so.
Might be only one or two problem areas in the line up remaining now which is not a bad quote. If they can keep it like that there are very good chances to go ahead of Germany and France at least as long as they are not finding a way to solve their problems too.
But first they have the Netherlands up next and that will be difficult enough. Scoring never is easy but the Netherlands are a wonderful match for the English team with one of their main strengths Lieke Martens probably cancelled out by Bronze (if the Dutch are not smart enough to switch flanks) And the strong areas of the Dutch defense are exactly at the wrong places for England. Groenen in front of the box has no playmaker and no central build up play to stop. And the wing backs have no strong classical English wingers to defend. England will attack mainly against the center backs where the Dutch have their weakness.


Player Ratings:

FRANCE:

Bouhaddi: 5.5
Not much to do but not quite there when needed the most

Houara: 7
Needed was a back with offensive skills.

Georges: 7.5
Solid replacement for Renard but rarely tested

M’Bock: 7.5
Always the junior partner but developing

Karchaoui: 6.5
Still not as fluent as we know her going forward.

Henry: 7
Not much needed in defense and not much helping the offense

Abily: 7
Tried the most to find a way through

Geyoro: 6.5
Solid part of the game but not more

LeSommer: 6
No effect up front. More as part of midfield play

Delie: 5.5
Non-factor all game.

Diani: 7
Engaged and starting point of some action

England:

Bardsley: 6.5
Strange injury history

Bronze: 8
Dominated LeSommer and her wing

Houghton: 7
Mostly solid center back play

Bright: 7
Also solid in the center

Stokes: 6
ok in defense

Moore: 5.5
Helped the defense stay compact. less foul plays please

Scott: 7.5
Great cover up of the center of the field

Nobbs: 7
Solid work in defense. No effect going forward.

White: 6.5
Worked well to deny the French midfield

Taylor: 6.5
The goal again

Kirby: 7
Little bit isolated but always working hard

 

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England – France 1:0

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