The gate for departures to China seems a little further away for Hope Powell's E
The gate for departures to China seems a little further away for Hope Powell's England side as a goal fifteen minutes from time at Selhurst Park gave the French a valuable one-nil 1st leg win to take back to St Etienne next month...
England 0-1 France
FIFA 2003 Women's World Cup
Play-off Final - 1st leg
Crystal Palace FC, Selhurst Park
Thursday 17th October 2002, 19.45 kick off
On a very important night for both nations eyeing up a trip to the World Cup next summer, offering their support to the visitors were Arsenal trio Patrick Vieira, Robert Pires and Silvain Wiltord, who themselves know a thing or two about winning, and their good fortune seemed to rub off on their compatriots.
When England could have used the power of their very own Philadelphia Charge, it was injured Kelly Smith's club mate, Marinette Pichon who flicked the switch to light the way for Les Bleus to make it advantage France.
It's not surprising this encounter began with both sides defending strong not wanting to give anything cheap away. Faye White, who had handed back the captaincy to the returning Walker, was a rock at the heart of defence, determined in every crunching challenge, and her full-backs too, particularly Rachel Unitt on the left, not frightened to get hurt in her quest for possession.
France had the better of the early exchanges; twice sending in crosses, but twice giving Pauline Cope an extended warm-up. And then, with five minutes gone, Three Lions' skipper Karen Walker had an open goal in front of her after carrying the ball around the advancing Celine Marty, however, by now the ball had other ideas as it continued on to a wide position. The Doncaster Belles forward retained possession, but when support was required in the mixer, her cross found nothing but green grass and blue shirts.
The battle continued in either teams' defensive territory and, with no clear cut chances presenting themselves in the penalty box, it was left to the two midfield generals to orchestrate their offensives from deep.
While France had the lively - and impressively monikered - number 7, Stephanie Mugneret-Beghe out on the right, England had the skill and creativity of Fara Williams pulling the strings in the middle. And on 10 minutes it was her neat work losing her marker that opened up a shot for Sammy Britton, but the Leeds midfielder drilled wide.
More graft from Amanda Barr, who struck the winner against Iceland, should have earned something, but after the Charlton striker out-paced Aline Riera to keep a lost cause in play, the loose ball was sent in to the crowd by Karen Burke.
Earning a corner after 20 minutes Elodie Woock delivered a teasing ball in for the French. A scramble in the box sent the ball away and Mugneret-Beghe was waiting on the edge of the area to drill goalward, but amid the very same scramble that set her up, the shot ricocheted wide
It was now back to Williams. After a spell of probing from either side without too much to show for their efforts, the young Charlton play-maker - whose play resembles a female Joe Cole - twisted inside Woock on the half way line opening up a run toward the French goal. From thirty yards, her shot was good, but it was always going wide of Marty's right post.
England came out after the break desperate for a goal would give them massive hope in St Etienne next month, but their anxiety began to show. The neat passing game now becoming more direct as they searched for a goal.
France kept calm and while they too looked for a breakthrough, they knew that it would by no means be disastrous if the game was tied. Shortly after the re-start the double-barrelled number 7 from FCF Juvisy again upped the pace a neat one-two with Woock opened up a sight of goal, but Cope had already smothered.
Five minutes later, France were almost caught at sea when Walker spotted the direct run of substitute Sue Smith down the middle, but the Leeds girl just could beat Riera for pace and the danger was gone.
France then came close from twenty five yards when Hoda Lattaf spotted Cope off her line, but her delightful left-foot chip was too high and rustled the top of the net. A glorious opening was presented to Smith that should have at least tested Marty's grip. But Burke's right-hand centre missed the head of Corinne Diacre and surprised the un-marked Smith whose attempted diving header was just a fraction too early.
Then it came, just as England had the measure of their opponents, Pichon, who'd been shackled by White and Phillip all match, pounced 18-yards out to send Woock's lofted pass beyond Cope low to her left.
With the crowd silenced, England now had 15 minutes in which to nick something that would lift their hopes of World Cup qualification, but it just wasn't to be their night. Fara Williams, who was too good to end up on the losing side, tried to grab a last gasp equaliser, but though her shot was on target it lacked the force that would trouble Marty.
Though disappointed, Hope Powell will know it's not over. It will be a very tough task out in France, but it's certainly not impossible. After an unfortunate defeat in what was a pretty even contest here, England can go in to the second leg with the belief that, with the same level of effort and a little bit of luck, a result is certainly not out of the question. They can still make the check-in to China.
1 Pauline Cope
2 Casey Stoney
3 Rachel Unitt
4 Samantha Britton (Exley)
5 Faye White
6 Mary Phillip
7 Karen Burke (Moore, 78)
8 Fara Williams
9 Karen Walker (c)
10 Amanda Barr
11 Rachel Yankey (Smith, 45)
12 Vicky Exley
13 Rachel Brown
14 Sue Smith
15 Kristy Moore
16 Jody Handley
17 Kirsty Pealling
18 Julie Fletcher
1 Celine Marty
2 Sabrina Viguier
3 Peggy Provost
4 Aline Riera
5 Corinne Diacre (c)
6 Sandrine Soubeyrand
7 Stephanie Mugneret-Beghe
8 Sonia Bompastor
9 Marinette Pichon
10 Elodie Woock
11 Hoda Lattaf
12 Severine Lecoufle
13 Candie Herbert
14 Ludivine Diguelmar
15 Laura Goerges
16 Melanie Lejeune (gk)
17 Marie-Anne Kramo
18 Emmanuelle Sykora