Les Bleues make it through

France became the first team to qualify for the semi-finals of Germany 2011, defeating England 4-3 on penalties in Leverkusen.

The game had finished 1-1 after extra time after Jill Scott and Elise Bussaglia’s second half goals, but the game required spot kicks after extra time failed to separate the sides.

With 33 shots on goal to seven, one might argue that Bruno Bini’s side fully deserved their win, although England played their part with a spirited performance.

Except for Celine Deville coming in for suspended goalkeeper Berangere Sapowicz, France fielded the same side that convincingly defeated Canada 4-0. Hope Powell made three changes for England from the 2-0 win over Japan, with captain Faye White, Fara Williams and Karen Carney replacing Sophie Bradley, Anita Asante and Jessica Clarke respectively.

There was almost a sensational start for the Lionesses when inside the first 30 seconds, Rachel Yankey’s ball from the right found Kelly Smith, who rounded the onrushing Celine Deville, but found her goalbound shot blocked. At the other end, Camille Abily’s shot from distance flew just over Karen Bardsley’s goal.

Defences were on top for the next 20 minutes with both keepers rarely tested, although France looked a little more in control. Gaetane Thiney’s right-footed shot from the edge of the box forced a smart save from Bardsley and Louisa Necib fired narrowly over the bar after England failed to clear a corner properly.

There were nervous moments for England ten minutes before half-time when a clearance from Bardsley was hit straight at Marie-Laure Delie, but the ball ballooned over the bar. Minutes later, Sonia Bompastor’s dipping free-kick almost caught the keeper off her line, but she recovered well to punch the ball over for another corner.

With France having nine shots to England’s one, an injury to Laure Lepailleur gave the Lionesses a chance to regroup, with Fara Williams, booked in the fifth minute for a full-blooded challenge on Thiney in the centre of the park, issuing the rallying call. The goalless scoreline at half-time would have suited England more than Les Bleues, with Powell having the chance to put things right.

It was France rather than England who started the second half the brighter, though, with Delie unlucky not to open the scoring after firing just wide three minutes after the restart.

Jill Scott had England’s first noteworthy chance in over 50 minutes early in the second half when she headed Rachel Unitt’s cross from the left narrowly wide. However, it was Scott who opened the scoring in the 59th minute when she got between Sabrina Viguier and Lepailleur to latch on to Yankey’s ball, with the Everton midfielder then firing a looping shot over Deville.

Kelly Smith, who had a hand in England’s goal, then defended her lines superbly by cutting out substitute Elodie Thomis’ cross, which Necib looked destined to reach. Thomis again caused problems for England down the right, powering past Unitt, but Bardsley again came to England’s rescue with a fine save.

Thomis was causing England all kinds of problems and went close again, but Bardsley stood up well at her near post to divert the ball out for a corner. There was still time for more drama. Ellen White was forced to head the ball off the line as Lepailleur’s header seemed to end up in the net, but France’s pressure paid off two minutes from time when Elise Bussaglia’s shot from the edge of the box flew in off the post.

The goal, which had been no less than France deserved, sent the game into extra time. Buoyed by the goal, Bini’s side looked in better shape tactically and physically. Indeed, the limping Kelly Smith would have almost certainly been replaced had Powell not used up all her substitutes inside the 90 minutes. Worse was to come, with Faye White hobbling badly after jarring her ankle inside the opening minutes of extra time.

France had the opportunity to go for the jugular, but seemed to drop the pace. Indeed it was the Lionesses who created the best chance of the first period when Bardsley’s long ball was flicked on by Smith into the path of Ellen White. The No9 only had the keeper to beat, but fired into the side netting.

With so many players struggling, the fact that England were still in the game was a testament to their battling qualities and team spirit. The second period of extra time was almost exclusively played inside their half, but despite a header from substitute Eugenie Le Sommer going over the bar, few chances were created.

And so to penalties. Camille Abily saw her spot kick saved by Bardsley, while Kelly Smith blasted hers home despite limping to the spot. Bussaglia and Carney traded successful spot kicks, as did Thiney and Stoney. Bompastor made no mistake, but Claire Rafferty screwed her chance wide. With one penalty to go, it was sudden death. Le Sommer scored but Faye White’s penalty clipped the top of the crossbar. The skipper’s miss sent France through to a semi-final against Brazil or USA – and England home without having lost a game in the competition.

Player of the Match: Camille Abily (FRA)