The last time France and England met, penalty kicks were required to separate the two sides. Sunday’s affair in Cyprus was far less contentious, however. Sylvain Jamet returns to recount the last marquee match-up of the 2012 Cyprus Cup group stage.
As per usual, Bruno Bini announced his line-up a day before the game. There were no surprises. The only question mark was goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi who passed a fitness test in the morning. Captain Sandrine Soubeyrand is still injured and was therefore unavailable. Marina Makanza was also left on the bench.
It was the usual 4-2-3-1 for France: Bouhaddi, Franco, Renard, Meilleroux, Bompastor, Abily, Bussaglia, Le Sommer, Necib, Thiney, Delie.
England’s starting XI was less easy to predict due to squad rotation and uncertainty from injuries. The attacking four appeared to be the only shoo-in’s. When the team sheet duly arrived, I could only place seven players and wondered where the other four would turn up on the pitch. Karen Bardsley was selected while Rachel Unitt and Fara Williams were not. Sophie Bradley, Rachel Brown, Siobhan Chamberlain and Sue Smith were the other players left off.
England lined up with the traditional 4-3-3 with Bardsley, A. Scott, Bassett, Stoney, Houghton, Asante, J. Scott, K. Smith, Carney, E. White, and Clarke. This meant there were quite a few surprises as Laura Bassett has played many games in midfield for England and Steph Houghton never plays a left-back for her club.
France came out on top 3-0. Where was the game won or lost? Credit must go to France’s defense. Ellen White did not get much of a sniff of a chance on goal. Les Bleues’ ball retention and patient build-up play was a bit better than England’s, who stuck with a more direct approach. Both sides tried to keep the ball whenever possible. A vertical pass from the English defense to the forwards was a regular option, but those balls were dealt with quite comfortably by Renard and Meilleroux.
The game was a bruising encounter. It was much more physical than the World Cup quarterfinal as both teams put in strong challenges that more than deserved a yellow card. Something that I did not expect was the number of fouls and crunching challenges made by France. They earned a few bookings for their trouble and left a few bruises on players like Alex Scott and Kelly Smith. Those tackles were not nice to see. Some were late, others were strong. It looked as if the French team anticipated a very hard physical battle.
As expected, the midfield area was extremely congested with both sides denying space and time to the opposition whenever possible. The main difference is France managed to play through the midfield at times with its more technical players while England tried to bypass it with direct football. Fara Williams was introduced for Anita Asante at half-time to help solve that problem, but to no avail.
The three goals were quite lovely. Louisa Necib struck gold with a magnificent volley following a poor defensive clearance. She aimed for the top corner and converted with grace and skill. The second goal was a mix of class, movement, and luck. Franco crossed the ball for Delie to meet and Bardsley unfortunately let the ball slip between her legs. The third was created by Elodie Thomis, who went speeding down the wing for a cross that wasn’t cleared far enough. Gaetane Thiney smashed it in from 12 yards away.
An annual tradition has been upheld. Canada has advanced to the Cyprus Cup final for the fifth year running, defeating last year’s finalists Holland 1-0. In a possible Olympic sneak preview, Big Red will meet France in the final on Tuesday.
The Algarve Cup group stage wraps up Monday. Two championship berths remain at stake. Germany and Sweden are knotted at the top of Group A. Sweden discovered its attacking flair – a relative rarity in this tournament – in its last group game against Iceland, winning 4-1. Sweden has defeated Germany twice in the last 12 meetings between the two sides, spanning back to 2000. Both victories came in the Algarve Cup.
Group B will also be decided Monday as the U.S. take on Japan. The last time these two teams met…well, a lot of stuff happened and it ended in penalty kicks. U.S. Soccer has more details, including an injury update regarding Tobin Heath.
Wales holds a tenuous lead at the top of Group C, despite scoring just one goal throughout the tournament. They meet Hungary on Monday.
The USWNT U-20’s have already booked a spot in the semifinals of the CONCACAF U-20 Women’s World Cup Qualifying tournament. Steve Swanson’s team racked up consecutive 6-0 wins over both Guatemala (highlights) and Cuba. Lindsey Horan and Katie Stengel are joint top-scorers while Crystal Dunn leads the assists category with three. The U.S. will round out the group stage against hosts Panama on Tuesday.
Mexico and Canada are currently tied on points at the summit of Group A. Mexico lead the group on superior goal difference thanks to a 10-0 blowout against Haiti. A winner will be decided Monday when the two face off.