France were humiliated in an astonishing 4-1 rout by England in cold and blustery Columbus, Ohio on Thursday.
Here are some thoughts:
1. Questionable Team Selection for France:
Given the new nature of Corinne Diacre’s reign as France WNT manager, there was probably some expectation of squad rotation throughout this tournament as they prepare for the meat of WWC qualifying. But Diacre sprung a serious shock from the off, leaving out Sarah Bouhaddi in goal in favor of the relatively untested Karima Benameur. While the keeper wasn’t guilty of serious howlers, rolling the dice right away was a shock.
Even more surprising was the omission of Amel Majri from the starting lineup. Majri’s been in incredible form for club and country over the past year and looked to be a sure thing in the lineup based on form. But Diacre opted for Sakina Karchaoui at left-back and Eugenie Le Sommer on the wing, leaving Majri on the bench. Given the quality of those two, squeezing Majri into the lineup could be difficult, but based on recent form, it seems necessary if France is to get the most from this squad.
2. A Tough Break Unpunished for England
England’s center-back situation coming into Thursday’s match was already up in the air with Millie Bright a doubt because of illness and other injuries hitting depth. The above prompted a recall of Anita Asante to the squad after a long absence, and the veteran started at the heart of defense with Bright but was forced off very early through injury, with Abbie McManus brought in to fill the breach. But with the raw McManus and potentially unwell Bright anchoring the defense, France were unable to seriously test Karen Bardsley in goal. While the Three Lionesses were able to survive against an off-song France side, how they hold up in defense in the other two rounds of the tournament if Asante is out is a big question.
3. A Bright Start for the Neville Era
There were numerous eyebrows raised when Phil Neville was appointed as England WNT boss given his lack of experience in women’s football, but he hardly could have asked for a better start, even in a glorified friendly. His England side jumped on France early and never really relented, save for the last quarter of an hour when the match was all but decided. The multitude of scorers underlined the depth in attack for Neville’s side, while the defense held up very well considering an untested center-back partnership that was thrown into further disarray after Asante’s injury. It remains to be seen if England can maintain this level of play over the course of this entire tournament (and beyond), but Neville has likely quieted some of his critics, at least in the short-term.
4. France Embarrasses Themselves
It’s hard to understate how poor France were on the afternoon. It’s true that England played reasonably well in the first half, but the French made it far too easy. The defense looked shockingly timid in sticking a foot in to tackle, which led to the English attackers dancing around in acres of space. Additionally, the French were far too late in predicting and snuffing out runs into the box, which bit them on more than one occasion. And when you consider most felt that France was stronger out wide than centrally on defense in this tournament, it’s extremely worrying that Demi Stokes and Lucy Bronze were so easily able to stretch the field on their forays from full-back.
The French looked little better on offense, appearing disconnected for much of the afternoon and wasting some deft movement of Eugenie Le Sommer. The club’s lack of cutting edge in front of goal other than Le Sommer looked like a potential weakness coming into the tournament, and they did very little to assuage those fears on Thursday. It’s unfathomable to think Diacre will run with the same combination offensively in the next two matches, but it’s also questionable as to if she’ll be able to find the right combination with the current roster.