England beat France for the first time in 43 years to reach the semi-finals of Euro 2017 on a night of high tension in Deventer.The Lionesses secured a semi-final against hosts Netherlands as they finally overcame Les Bleues, who had beaten them in the past three major tournaments.The result means England are now the highest-ranked team left in the competition following Denmark’s shock victory over Germany, the winners of the past six European Championships.
Striker Jodie Taylor was England’s match-winner, clipping in on the hour for her fifth goal in three Euros matches after being set up by the excellent Lucy Bronze.It leaves the Arsenal forward on course to win the Golden Boot as no other player has scored more than twice so far.England hung on after Taylor scored, with injured goalkeeper Karen Bardsley being replaced by Siobhan Chamberlain, as France created several goalmouth scrambles.
The only blemish on an otherwise historic night was a yellow card for Jill Scott, who will now miss the semi-final.The result ensured boss Mark Sampson created his own history by becoming the first England manager since Sir Alf Ramsey in 1968 to reach consecutive semi-finals at major tournaments, having also guided his team to third place at the 2015 World Cup.And if England beat Netherlands in Enschede on Thursday, Sampson will become only the third senior England manager, after Ramsey in 1966 and his own predecessor Hope Powell in 2009, to lead the national side to a major final.
England’s poor record against France extended back to 1974 but, perhaps more significantly, they had failed to win in five previous meetings since Sampson took over as manager, throwing away a lead at the SheBelieves Cup in March, when Les Bleues scored a 95th-minute winner.
But without the scorer of the winner that night, suspended captain Wendie Renard, France could not find an equaliser as England produced some last-gasp defending.It will have been a huge relief for Sampson, as the coach had risked embarrassment with his pre-match comment that England didn’t need to be at their best to beat France, who have failed to reach a major tournament semi-final in their past four attempts.But in the final analysis, England will feel that judgement was correct, and they should have more to offer when they face the Netherlands, having beaten them 1-0 in a friendly last November.
Lucy Bronze, pictured taking on France’s Kadidiatou Diani, was a major threat for England.Having rested players for their final group match against Portugal, England returned to their strongest team, which had earned wins in the first two games.
Bronze and Jordan Nobbs proved England’s strongest partnership again down the right side, helped by the threat of Taylor, who is one goal shy of equalling the European Championship record held by former German striker Inka Grings.
It was from that avenue that the winner originated.The dangerous Bronze had already waltzed through the France defence in the first half, and, after an hour, her endless energy nicked the ball in midfield before feeding Taylor, who made no mistake from a narrowing angle.
Manchester City right-back Bronze played a telling part in England finishing third at the 2015 World Cup, scoring a winner in the second-round victory over Norway and against hosts Canada in the last eight.
Having won the Under-19 European Championship with England, plus several trophies with her club, she is inspiring the national side to greater heights in the Netherlands.England struggled to get into their rhythm in the first half against the French, who had 10 Champions League winners in their squad compared with the two in Sampson’s team.
Anchored by the excellent Amandine Henry, and with Camille Abily adding guile further forward, France looked more dangerous with striker Marie-Laure Delie wasting a good opening early on.England’s frustration got the better of Scott, who dived in on Henry to receive a second yellow card of the tournament, but they improved when they got the ball forward more quickly.
That tactic led to Taylor’s goal, but they had to defend in numbers as France poured forward for an equaliser.As they showed against Spain, England combined clinical attacking with brilliant defending, with Jade Moore pulling off some superb blocks.Substitute keeper Chamberlain was tested several times, but looked assured before England celebrated wildly at the final whistle.
The right-back proved a leading light for England again, setting up the goal and creating their most dangerous opportunities
‘I’m very, very proud’England manager Mark Sampson on BBC Radio 5 live: “I’m proud of them. They work so hard and are desperate to improve. All those qualities were apparent tonight. This was a tough game against an excellent French team. They’re one of the best in the world for a reason.
“It’s a huge result for us because this is a French team that beat the USA to win the SheBelieves Cup. They came in as one of the favourites and are full of Champions League winners. It’s a big result and I’m very, very proud.”England captain Steph Houghton on BBC Radio 5 live: “I’m delighted. You could tell by the celebrations how much it meant. We knew it would be tough but it showed what we’re about – we put out bodies on the line for that win.”The character and determination were unbelievable. I knew they weren’t going to break us down.”It means everything. We’re experienced in big games and we know we can dig results out and we’re looking forward to a semi-final against the Netherlands.”
England substitute keeper Siobhan Chamberlain, who replaced the injured Karen Bardsley, said: “It was a fantastic display from front to back. Everyone was commanding their areas.”The Netherlands are unbeaten for a reason. A lot of their players we know from the Women’s Super League. We’ll go and work on the game plan to try to win.”
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