DEVENTER, Netherlands – As the quarterfinals continue tonight, the primary focus has shifted to two forever rivals. England and France will battle for a spot in the semifinals against the Netherlands. If the Lionesses are triumphant, they’ll make history by beating Les Bleues for the first time since 1974. France have a 19 match unbeaten streak against them, with heartbreak after heartbreak for England.
The Group D winners have never been in a better position to conquer France though. England topped the group stage with 10 goals scored, playing three different styles, and with a distinctly different lineup against Scotland and Spain than Portugal.
“These are the games that you want to be involved in,” said captain Steph Houghton. “It’s France versus England, the quarterfinals of the European Championships. For us, [it’s] very exciting, and we can’t wait to get going.”
Despite France dominating England, the Lionesses do not fear the French. They are eager to continue with growth and ready to continue on with the next stage of the tournament. England’s looking forward, ready to check off that next box while making more history.
“When it comes to England,” said Jordan Nobbs, “we’re loving the stats of what we can do, to be the first team to do it. We want to be the first team to win the EUROs. I think it’s just another thing we want to put on the board and tick off. I think it’s exciting for us. We really want to push ourselves to be that team.”
Last session before the Quarter- Final Tomorrow ? pic.twitter.com/AK3OJu6sqr
— Jordan Nobbs (@JordanNobbs8) July 29, 2017
While the media is building up England’s lopsided record against France, players like midfielder Jill Scott aren’t concerned with history or what the past says. They are fully aware of what France has accomplished against them, but not fixated with fright.
“We don’t really talk about it as a team,” said Scott, when asked about 1974. “Obviously we’ve had some good performances against them, we’ve had a few draws along the way. We know that every time we go to play them, we haven’t beaten them in a long time, but as I say, now’s the best time for us to put ourselves up against them. We’ve gained a bit of momentum, we’re playing good football, everyone’s in great shape, and anything can happen on Sunday. I feel like it’s too early for us to leave this tournament.”
France are ripe to be beaten, and will be missing a pair of key defenders due to suspension. Wendie Renard picked up her second yellow of the tournament, and Eve Périsset was issued a straight red card. Manager Olivier Echouafni will have to shuffle his back four against an in-form England offense.
“I think we can’t underestimate France,” Houghton said, “even though potentially they haven’t had the start they wanted in this tournament. They are full of world-class players, so it’s about doing the things we’ve been doing really well, which is being compact and hard to break down and being very aggressive in our press. But also we need to be high pace and allow our strikers chances on goals.”
Without Renard anchoring the back four, France are losing a tremendous threat on set pieces. Not having Renard available completely changes tactics and the dynamics of France on both defense and offense. England have never had a bigger chance to win.
“Obviously they’re missing Wendie Renard,” said Scott. “She’s a fantastic player for them. She adds such height and is so dangerous on set pieces. That will be a big miss for them. Yeah, it is a good time to play them in that sense. I also know with France, they’ll be gaining momentum as the tournament goes on. They’ve kind of had a few slow starts to tournaments, but they’ve got players in there that can score goals at anytime.”
The Lionesses came close to conquering France at the SheBelieves Cup in March. France was able to nick out a come-from-behind win thanks to a stoppage time headed goal from Renard. If there was ever a time for England to beat France, surely this must be it?
“We said that the last time,” admitted Houghton. “Yeah, it’s disappointing that Wendie won’t be playing because she’s a world-class defender and the heartbeat of their team. We know what threats they possess, and it’s important that we try and stop them.”
We’ve already seen plenty of surprises at EURO 2017, and if England can do the job against France, it would be a surprise but likely on the France side. Since both teams know each other quite well, there won’t be any secrets or unfamiliarity for England or France.
“The English team, it’s very hard because they have a lot of good players,” said Amandine Henry. “I think everything is possible. We will see, but it will be hard because we have two suspended. But technically I think we are better, and we will see on the field.”
France have yet to show who they really are. They faced elimination against Switzerland until Camille Abily’s free kick found the net. Failing to show up for the group stage has yet to cost them. In a tournament full of intrigue, a France failure wouldn’t be anything new.
England have clearly been the best side at the EUROs, but facing a nemesis that is France, they’ve never been able to channel through and get the better of Les Bleues.
“I think it’s shown in this tournament, anything can happen, anyone can go through,” said Nobbs when asked about any possible surprises. “Anyone can win or draw. I don’t think you can judge what’s going to happen. We just know that we need to stick to our game plan, and push ourselves 110 percent going into that game. That’ll be the main aim when we play. We just want to be the best we can be, and the best team we can be.”
The next chapter of England versus France is sure to bring a lot of emotion and excitement. The Lionesses will have to show that they have arrived and that France can be beat. Les Bleues won’t be able to walk through another lackluster match, or it will be all England.