England Women slipped to a narrow defeat to France in their opening game of the 2015 World Cup in Canada.
However, there were plenty of positives to take from a very close game against the side ranked third in the world and one of the bookies’ favourites for the tournament.
A single goal separated the two sides at the final whistle, and England will hope for a little more firepower in the final third in the remaining group games to help them qualify for the knockout stages.
Four City Women stars were named in England’s first starting XI of the tournament, with captain Steph Houghton leading out a team also containing club mates Karen Bardsley, Jill Scott and Lucy Bronze.
Toni Duggan started the night on the bench as England looked to contain a France side with bags of pace down the flanks.
In an even game, the inclusion of Bronze wide on the left was key to manager Mark Sampson’s plans with the City player’s combination of defensive diligence and attacking impetus leading to her selection on the opposite side to her usual right back slot to counter the French threat.
Meanwhile, Scott was tasked with bridging the gap between midfield and lone striker Eniola Aluko, and it was the City player who had the first real chance of the game for the Lionesses – her well struck cross drifting into the side netting courtesy of the Canadian winds.
However, in a tightly-contested game of few opportunities it was France who enjoyed the majority of possession as the half wore on, and Bardsley was called into action with an excellent stop after 20 minutes to deny Louisa Necib from a free kick.
The keeper made another good low save not long after but was powerless to stop England’s opponents taking the lead on the 28 minute mark courtesy of the brilliant Eugenie Le Sommer.
It might have been worse for the Lionesses shortly after the break when the scorer volleyed over the top with the goal gaping but Sampson’s side steadied the ship and began to create chances of their own.
Scott again troubled the French defence after latching onto Aluko’s corner but she could only find the gloves of the opposing stopper.
With an hour gone Sampson turned to Duggan, who netted ten times in the tournament’s qualifying campaign, to support Aluko up top and add another striker to stretch the French defence.
However, the next significant incident took place at the other end, when total confusion reigned in England’s penalty area as Houghton and defensive partner Laura Bassett were both downed by blows to the face that left them lying on the Moncton turf as their teammates eventually hoisted the ball clear.
Replays showed that Bassett had felt the full force of an elbow and Abily was lucky not to receive a red card, but the blow seemed to escape the eyes of the referee.
As the minutes ran out France resorted to keep ball, playing around England and not letting them have much of a sniff in the closing stages.
The Lionesses were set up to defend and although the second half substitutions changed the shape somewhat, Duggan and her attacking partners struggled to influence the game as they would have liked.
Bassagua’s long range drive was watched behind by Bardsley, while at the other end Houghton’s ball forward was gratefully clutched by the French keeper and Duggan’s attempted through ball was just nicked away by the covering defender.
Sub Fran Kirby had a chance for the equaliser at the death but in the end the final whistle arrived too soon for a resurgent England.
England will take heart from a solid performance against one of the world’s best, and will look to flex their own attacking muscles when they take on Mexico on Saturday.
ENGLAND: Bardsley; Alex Scott (Kirby 69), Houghton, Bassett, Rafferty; Williams; White (Duggan 60), Jill Scott, Chapman (Moore 76), Bronze; Aluko.