France 3 England 1
England suffered a 3-1 friendly defeat away against an under-strength France side in Caen, in the Lionesses’ penultimate friendly before interim coach Hege Riise names her Great Britain squad for the Olympics next month.
A minute’s silence was held before the game and England’s players wore black armbands, following the death of His Royal Highness, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh earlier on Friday, which also saw live coverage of the match pulled from BBC Four’s schedule, with the BBC showing the match online and on the Red Button service instead.
The result was a poor one for England against a France side who were without all of their Lyon stars because of a Covid-19 outbreak in the Women’s Champions League holders’ world-class squad.
But the focus was always on preparation for England’s bid for European Championship glory on home soil in 2022 and, before then, Team GB’s bid for Olympics glory. So who will have impressed Riise and the selectors?
Chelsea forward Fran Kirby stood out as England’s best player by a distance, and she netted England’s goal from the penalty spot, but her seat on the plane to the Olympics was sealed long ago because of her hugely impressive season with Chelsea that may well see her secure a clean sweep of all the Women’s Super League’s individual awards this term.
But with just a squad of 18 players from across Great Britain going to Tokyo, it was a big night for many of the players whose places in that smaller group are much less certain, and their performances were mixed.
Among those who will have boosted their chances of selection was Manchester City winger Lauren Hemp, whose second-half introduction from the bench livened up England’s attack significantly. The 20-year-old won England’s penalty, cutting in from the left, and her brilliant run set up Keira Walsh, who struck the post.
Manchester United manager Casey Stoney, working as a pundit on the BBC’s coverage, said of Hemp after the game: “She’s probably our most naturally gifted left-winger. For me, she’s definitely put herself on the plane.”
At the other end, it was a worrying night for England defensively, who were missing injured captain Steph Houghton at centre-back and Fifa Best Player of 2020 Lucy Bronze, who was rested because of a knock. Without that key duo, England repeatedly looked wide open defensively.
Stoney added: “I think there’ll be a few players really reflecting on their own individual performances and saying ‘was that an opportunity missed for me?’ There were positives in terms of chances created but they’ll be disappointed with the goals they have conceded tonight.”
Bronze’s absence meant Rachel Daly was given a chance to impress at right-back, but she found herself up against player-of-the-match Sandy Baltimore, who ran England ragged down France’s left flank. The pacey Paris Saint-Germain winger, who opened the scoring with a sweet strike, caused frequent problems for England and particularly Daly, who switched to left-back after half-time but then clumsily conceded a penalty which was tucked in by substitute Viviane Asseyi for France’s second goal.
England have four goalkeepers in their 26-player squad but Riise gave one of them, Manchester City’s Ellie Roebuck, the full 90 minutes, giving her a chance to stake her claim as the number one and she produced three excellent saves in a solid performance. She will surely go to Japan.
But Arsenal centre-back Leah Williamson — a strong contender for the Tokyo squad because of her versatility — and on-loan Everton midfielder Jill Scott will have both been disappointed to have misjudged a high, bouncing ball that led to France’s opener, while the usually-reliable Millie Bright conceded possession more often that England will have liked.
France (4-4-2): Peyraud-Magnin; Torrent (Perisset, 85) Tounkara, De Almeida, Morroni; Diani (Dali, 85) Geyoro, Palis (Jaurena, 60), Baltimore; Gauvin (Asseyi, 59), Katoto
Subs not used: Durand, Thibaud, Jean-Francois, Le Sommer, Khelifi, Picaud, Fleury,
Yellow cards: Palis, Torrent
England (4-2-3-1): Roebuck; Daly, Bright, Williamson (Wubben-Moy, 64), Greenwood (Charles, 45); Scott (Nobbs, 73), Walsh; Parris (Kelly, 45), Kirby, Mead; White (England, 74)
Subs not used: MacIver (g), Turner, Toone, Stanway, Telford (g), Barnsley (g), Morgan
Yellow cards: Mead, Daly
Referee: Sara Persson (Sweden)