Under the most intensive spotlight the women's game has received in England Hope Powell's team wilted.
Their Women's Euro 2013 campaign of high expectation and low achievement, that familiar English combination, was brought to an emphatic end as France condemned a side ranked fourth in Europe to a humiliating group stage exit.
England would be "fighting for their lives", according to the head coach before kick-off. Ultimately they were outclassed by a stylish French side who deepened the misery of an alarming summer for English football, suffering their worst tournament result since 2001 in the process. There can be no complaint.
Powell accepted the need for change – there was no alternative – and introduced Toni Duggan alongside Ellen White up front, Karen Carney for the injured Rachel Yankey and replaced the central defender Laura Bassett with Sophie Bradley, who was carried off with an ankle injury in the final pre-tournament friendly against Sweden. Yet it was the France coach, Bruno Bini, whose selection caused the greater stir with six changes to the team that secured first place in Group C with Monday's victory over Spain. Bini may have been protecting key players for the quarter-finals. By half-time it seemed he was simply boasting about the reserves at his disposal.
If there was initial encouragement for England in the French team-sheet, it was negated by their opponents' formidable forward line. The understanding between Louisa Necib, Gaëtane Thiney, the pacy Elodie Thomis and Eugénie Le Sommer, plus the support they received, was vastly superior to England's attack and immediately demonstrated. Whereas Duggan and White were left isolated in pursuit of hopeful long balls, France retained possession under pressure in the final third, combined superbly and had the vision to lay siege to Karen Bardsley's goal.
England did not have one shot in the opening half-hour. France had seven. By the 53rd minute it was 0-11 in terms of shots on goal. Bini's team were almost ahead from their first attack, a move that gave a flavour of things to come, when Thiney and Necib combined to create space for Le Sommer on the edge of the area. The centre-forward's first time strike beat Bardsley and rebounded clear off the base of a post. Notice had been served but England were unable to heed it. Two minutes later Thomis began her sheer dominance of the right flank with a run past two England challenges. Steph Houghton recovered with a timely tackle on the edge of the box but the ball fell to Le Sommer who, with defenders backing off, found the far corner too easily.
France's 39-year-old captain, Sandrine Soubeyrand, fired over from 20 yards, Thomis forced Bardsley into a fine save at the near post when she perhaps should have squared for the unmarked Le Sommer and was then sent clear by Necib only for Bradley to intervene expertly as the right-winger shaped to shoot. Bardsley also saved from Necib and Thomis shot wide with England defenders unable to get close.
The only positive Powell could possibly take from the first half was the slender margin of France's lead. There was no other encouragement to be found in a 45-minute display of French class and aimless tactics from England. Dan Ashworth, the FA's director of elite development, looked on with a deepening frown as England's record at senior women's, men's, under-19s, under-20s and under-21s this summer headed towards one win in 16 internationals.
Jill Scott's introduction at the break brought much-needed energy to England's midfield but yet again the threat from Powell's team was negligible. Thomis blazed over when sent clear by Necib and, if England began to believe in another late reprieve at that point, they were soon shaken by reality. Le Sommer picked out the superb Necib unmarked in front of England's goal, who easily side-stepped Houghton and found the top corner from 18 yards. Two minutes later Necib crossed from the right and Wendie Renard towered above three England defenders to head into the opposite corner.
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