FRESH FRENCH TALENT SPOILS SOUTHGATE’S SCRIPT
England found it difficult to stop the free-flowing, attacking style of play that Didier Deschamps’ young France side possesses. Harry Kane, wearing the armband once again, scored his seventh and eighth England goals, but even after Raphaël Varane’s dismissal, Les Bleus were able to undo England, winning 3-2 on the night.
Three Lions manager Gareth Southgate made six changes to the side that stole a draw at Hampden Park on Saturday. Tom Heaton started in goal for his country for the first time, with a debut and a first start handed to Tottenham right-back Kieran Trippier. Phil Jones and John Stones of Manchesters United and City joined Gary Cahill in a three-man back line. France fielded a similarly young team to England, with Monaco teammates Thomas Lemar and Kylian Mbappé starting in midfield, along with fellow teen Ousmane Dembélé of Borussia Dortmund. Antione Griezmann was rested, but United Paul Pogba completed the midfield with Chelsea’s N’Golo Kanté.
After the minute’s silence in respect for the recent attacks in Manchester and London, England kicked off. Neither team kick-started.
Eight minutes in, Thomas Lemar misplaced a pass, unintentionally finding Tottenham’s Eric Dier. The central midfielder found Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who quickly fed Dele Alli on the England right-wing. Alli sped up the play, crossing meanly into the France box before might have been anticipated. The ball evaded the head of Monaco’s Djibril Sidibé, landing at the feet of Raheem Sterling. The Manchester City man waited for Ryan Bertrand’s overlap, before cutely backheeling the ball into the Southampton defender’s path. The left-back, playing as a left-winger because of the three-man backline, whipped the ball into the box low, and goal machine Harry Kane helped himself to his second England goal in his last ten minutes of international football. The celebrations were composed, yet evident, and the score was 1-0 to England. The following ten minutes were just as eventful. France had two golden opportunities to equalise – first when Olivier Giroud finished off a Benjamin Mendy cross but was flagged offside, and then when Mbappé’s counter left Dembélé able only to pass the ball wide of an almost gaping goal. On the twenty-minute mark, France were awarded a free-kick. England’s decision to play a high-line as a poor one, as Giroud won a header, which Heaton pushed away well. The keeper could only place his deflection right into the path of a man in blue though, and Samuel Umtiti of Barcelona was on hand to tap home Les Bleus’ equaliser.
France upped the ante and, on half-an-hour, nearly took the lead. A Lemar pass was perfect for acting-winger Mbappé. The Monaco man showed the England defenders the wrong way, shooting goalwards. Heaton could make a block with his feet. Just a minute later, England had their next chance. Ryan Bertrand sent a low shot flying in from twenty-five yards, which Hugo Lloris was not prepared to leave – diving to push it behind. The resulting corner brought another opportunity; Cahill headed down for Dier. The Tottenham man could not quite wrap his food around the ball, passing it just wide of the post.
Just before the break, France did take the lead. The mercurial dribbling of Dembélé gave England lots of problems. His faked shot floored John Stones, before his shot was well saved by Tom Heaton. In came Djibril Sidibé to follow Umtiti in scoring his first international goal, again on the follow-up. Heaton saved well originally in both goals, but had no luck in either piece of follow-up play. At half-time, the home side led 2-1.
As the second period began, Dele Alli headed forward. Harry Kane, offside, left the ball for Alli who continued his run forward. Raphaël Varane pushed him in the back, before Lloris felled him. The video assistant referee [VAR] was used and, after a short delay, the referee pointed to the spot, and sent Varane off. Whether his challenge was intentional is debatable, but England were handed a way back into the match, just one minute into the second-half. Harry Kane stepped up against his Tottenham teammate [and captain] Lloris. The forward followed the ball down the middle, handing England equality at 2-2. France then embarrassed England. A man down, they looked bizarrely rejuvenated. Mbappé was thwarted well by substitute keeper Jack Butland, before had smashed the bar later from an open goal. The shot was followed up with a crashing Lemar volley, before England got the ball finally clear. England looked tired and embarrassing, and Eric Dier’s mistake led to another counter for the men with ten. Pogba did well to play in Mbappé early. The teenager did well to fend off John Stones’ tight company, before laying off for the equally talented teen Ousmane Dembélé. The Dortmund star fired low into the bottom corner. Jack Butland could do nothing. A goal of England’s making cake France the lead.
Kylian Mbappé was handed yet another opportunity to score his first France goal late on in stoppage time, the effort blocked again by Butland’s legs. England substitute Aaron Cresswell fired the ball just over from range following an even later corner, before the referee decided he had had enough.
England lost, even against ten men. Trippier played a promising debut, and Harry Kane added two more England goals to his collection, but the positives ended there for a team looking less able, less hungry and less experienced than the teams at the real summit of international football. It ended in bitter disappointment for Southgate’s men; France 3-2 England in Paris. England’s manager has plenty to ponder before qualifying resumes in Malta on 1st September.