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Saturday, July 9, 2011
France ends England's WC dreams


LEVERKUSEN, Germany -- Penalty kicks weren't exactly how Les Bleus wanted their game against England to go. Especially with timid backup keeper Celine Deville at the helm after Berangere Sapowicz was shown a red card in the last game of the group stages. But red card or not, the French squad waited until the 87th minute against England to hit the 1-1 equalizer, thanks to Elise Bussaglia, and then crafted a memorable finish, winning 4-3 in the penalty shootout to advance to the Women's World Cup semifinals.

For most of regulation play, France dominated. "Well, I have the feeling that I was at the wrong movie," French coach Bruno Bini said after the match. "To have a match with so many chances and we didn't score until three minutes before the final whistle, we could have lost easily."

Entering the second half of play, Les Bleus dominated the Three Lionesses despite nearly identical amount of possession time with nine shots on goal compared to England's one.

But in the 59th minute, Jill Scott scored England's only goal. Then 29 minutes later, Bussaglia picked up a scrappy rebound and shot a rocket off the left post that ricocheted past England's keeper, Karen Bardsley. The goal was a long time coming after 23 failed attempts for France.

Overtime was largely a drill with both squads seemingly killing time until inevitable penalty kicks. "The quality France showed in the first half, I just kept pleading with the clock to go quicker, quicker and it wouldn't shift," England coach Hope Powell said of her squad's untimely exit. "And again, England gets knocked out in penalties, how boring."

Here are three things we learned from the match:

1. A red card is not a red flag. DeVille looked absolutely petrified against Germany, having to enter the tournament defending against a penalty kick. Although her side of the pitch saw very little action against England, she was more prepared and poised for this match. And though she didn't technically save any of the PKs, she fought her way through a tough psychological lineup and managed to dig herself out of a hole.

2. France needs to regain its effectiveness on corners. For France to compete against either Brazil or the U.S., one of which it'll face in the semifinals, it'll need to capitalize on more opportunities. It should start by trying to improve on corner kicks. Les Bleus couldn't convert one of their 16 corner kick attempts against England because their strategy of going long and wide eliminates any possibility of a good angle on goal. The fact that the last play of the game was a Sonia Bompastor corner kick that didn't even make it on to the field is a problem. We know France can do better -- it scored twice off corners against Germany -- and it'll have to if it hopes to progress in the World Cup.

3. Physical play doesn't equal a win. The pitch was full of small scraps and physicality, and England's four yellow cards to France's none is quiet reminder that elegant play and passing can be rewarded with a win. At one point, Kelly Smith almost came to blows with Bompastor, delivering some very intimate face time. England may have been dishing out the blows because its players were being outplayed and battered. An injured Smith looked like she'd been through the ringer, limping between plays and clutching various body parts. Faye White, having sat out against Japan, didn't fare much better.