A game that had everything ended in a familiar way for England. The Three Lionesses went down on penalties to a France side in thrilling and heartbreaking fashion.
Full credit goes to France who played with the most fluidity throughout all 120 minutes and with the best touch on the ball. The English 11 coughed up possession too easily, especially in the middle of the pitch, and resorted to hoisting long pass after long pass up to no one. The poor service left Kelly Smith — England’s number 10 and purported heroine — with little but scraps to feed from in a forgettable first half.
The brightest moment of the first period came in the first 20 seconds with Ellen White getting in behind the French defense and unleashing a shot. The run of play thereafter was entirely with the French however and they continued to probe and pile pressure in the attacking third, their 4th choice goalkeeper, Deville, had little to do until an England corner in the 2nd minute of extra time at the end of the first half. To their relief, the whistle blew and the ladies in England jerseys were in the dressing room with an adequate 0-0 draw at halftime; but France had dominated the shooting stats 9-1.
The second half saw the real action though as England and Yankey started brightly down the left side. Ellen White got involved right away but Yankey’s corner was nodded away by the tall French defense. France must have heard a good half-time speech too because they were always threatening on the break. On 50 minutes Thiney should have made more of her possession as she blasted right at the England #1, Karen Bardsley.
There was a good bright spot on 55 minutes from England as Fara Williams crossed dangerously into Jill Scott who headed just wide after their best spell of build up play of the half. France still had the run of possession and England kept trying long balls up the middle to Jill Scott and the invisible Kelly Smith — a technique which seemed utterly hopeless against the superior touch of the French side, until the breakthrough came in the 59th minute.
Against the run of play, Jill Scott took advantage of a fortunate bounce and excellent one-two play between Kelly Smith and Yankey after the latter placed an excellent long pass into Scott’s feet. Deville was off her line and Scott finished superbly in the top center of the net to put England 1-0 up, and the dream was alive.
But Nacib and France looked ever dangerous as they heaped on the pressure and kept the brilliant Bardsley very busy in the England goal. Soon it became too much for them and France had equalized through an incredible left footed shot from 20 yards out by France midfielder Elise Bussaglia. Now the game was on and we were going to extra time. France were in control, and England were gassed. For the last 10 minutes of regular time and the full 30 minutes of extra time Kelly Smith was hobbling with exhaustion and injury and English players seemed to be falling all over the pitch with cramping leg muscles. They quite literally limped to the end of extra time, somehow deflecting the barrage of French crosses and shots.
They had Bardsley to thank for reaching the penalty phase and it was her time to shine as she saved the first penalty from France’s #10, Abily. England made good on their first three penalties, finishing all of them calmly. Indeed it looked as if the penalties demon that haunts England’s men would not appear on this night, the Three Lionesses were 3-2 up with 2 penalties left to go.
And then it happened. 22 year-old Claire Rafferty stepped up and dragged her shot agonizingly wide, Le Sommer converted cooly, and the England captain, Faye White struck the top side of the bar with her shot to complete England’s misery.
Written by: Tom Yonker, Women’s World Cup correspondent, soccerprose.com
Recent posts in Women's World Cup