England women’s first game at the 2015 World Cup appeared to pass them by yesterday afternoon, as a cagey affair saw them lose 1-0 to a hotly tipped France side, but tactics may have hampered a smooth start to their campaign in Canada.
Setting out in a 4-1-4-1 formation was never going to make for the most exciting game and it certainly served its purpose. France’s Elodie Thomis was kept quiet with a left flank combination of Claire Rafferty and Lucy Bronze who proved a solid match for her frightening pace.
It was a sloppy goal in fact that split the sides, with the midfield overplaying in dangerous positions and handing Eugenie Le Sommer a chance from 20 yards. She sent her shot crashing in off the hands of goalkeeper Karen Bardsley who will perhaps feel she should have done better with the effort. It was just one of many occasions where English passes didn’t stick and could easily have been avoided by following the defensive motto that the side set out on.
At this point, the plan was stuck too and even after half-time, the formation only became slightly more open, not ringing the changes needed to compete and try to find a way back in the match. It was left all too late and other than a Jill Scott chance from a corner and some pressure in stoppage time, England didn’t appear to carry any threat. Poor Eni Aluko was left to chase scraps and had a frankly frustrating afternoon.
It certainly begs the question, why defend so vigorously? Yes we know that England have been embarrassed in the past for playing too openly but this was almost a free shot at points. No one expected them to win and a defeat would have come as expected. Losing to the third best side in the world is far different to losing to rank outsiders and would certainly not have been as damaging to morale.
In reality, surely a 3-1 or 3-2 defeat is more comforting when you know you’ve created chances and managed to convert, rather than an overly defensive 1-0 against an off colour France side where the overriding questions is ‘what if’.
At 1-0 the side had no more points or advantage than at two or three nil down and a quicker change of emphasis today could have gained England an invaluable point at the very least. Perhaps surprise at France’s performance may have blinded the management team who were consumed with the defensive battle and were almost scared to lose today.
You can certainly win a league by playing not to lose, just look at Chelsea, but you won’t win a World Cup that way, especially when you hand weak goals to your opponents.
Immediate improvement needed
The margin for error is now almost zero and today could have been a free shot at alleviating that. One mistake cost England today but it’s not the result that’s disappointing, nor was the outstanding work ethic of the English side. The concern will be that 90 minutes into their World Cup, even positive changes couldn’t spark an attack with the strike force yet to get off the mark.
By playing defensively the goal posts haven’t altered and it still stands as virtually everyone expected, England need two wins from the games against Mexico and Colombia where they will clearly play more expansively.
A win against Mexico is essential on Saturday as four points may not be enough and confidence really would take a beating if they failed to register three points at the second time of asking.