England Women relinquished their Cyprus Cup crown after being beaten 2-0 by France in the final in Nicosia.
Rachel Yankey’s fine finish had defeated Canada in last season’s showpiece, but Mark Sampson’s new side were on the back foot almost from the off as Gaetane Thiney prodded the French into a sixth-minute lead.
Camille Abily made it 2-0 with an angled finish from inside the box soon after and although there were no more goals, France just about edged it overall, particularly after their dominant first-half performance.
England Women 0-2 France
The Cyprus Cup final
4pm, Wednesday 12 March
It was England’s first defeat under the former Bristol Academy boss following three wins and a draw in his first four matches.
But the really important work begins when Montenegro visit Brighton for a World Cup qualifier on Saturday 5 April.
There were three changes from the victory against the Canadians on Monday as Malmo midfielder Anita Asante and Liverpool duo Gemma Davison and Natasha Dowie came in for Arsenal midfielder Jordan Nobbs, Notts County forward Ellen White and Boston Breakers striker Lianne Sanderson respectively.
In the build up to the final, Sampson had asked his players to be bold in their approach and a look at the bench supported this attacking philosophy, as there wasn’t one recognised defender among the substitutes.
But it was the French who started the brightest with Louisa Necib plundering a 25-yard half volley off Siobhan Chamberlain’s right-hand upright in just the third minute. They took the lead soon after.
Some typically pacy wing play from the jet-heeled Elodie Thomis allowed her to burst past Demi Stokes down the right, England’s backline failed to deal with her low cross and Thiney poked home the loose ball from close range.
The Juvisy forward then turned provider as France made the most of their territorial advantage. Thiney slipped a through ball into the area for Abily to fire an angled drive past Chamberlain from ten yards.
Abily fired a shot narrowly wide and Chamberlain leapt from her line to deny Thiney a free header at goal as France continued to dictate proceedings.
A large period of the game then ensued where neither goalkeeper was troubled – until two substitutes combined early in the second half to give England their first real opportunity.
Eniola Aluko, on for Davison, scampered to the by-line and pulled the ball back for Jill Scott, who replaced Asante, but the Manchester City midfielder skewed her 18-yard shot over the bar.
A France substitute then got in on the action; Marina Makanza using her strength to get past Stokes before firing narrowly wide of the far post.
England grew into the game in the second period but were unable to get a real foothold in the game to mount a comeback. One bright moment came when record goalscorer Kelly Smith appeared from the bench for her first international appearance since Euro 2013.
However, the French managed to see the game out in relative comfort for their first piece of silverware under their new manager Philippe Bergeroo.
Over the course of this competition, Sampson has impressed upon his players his desire for them to continually improve as he attempts to introduce his own ideas.
He said results were secondary to performance in what is essentially a friendly tournament, so he won’t dwell on this defeat too much as preparations begin for the World Cup qualifier against Montenegro next month.
England (4-3-3): 1 Siobhan Chamberlain (Arsenal); 2 Alex Scott (Arsenal), 6 Steph Houghton (Manchester City), 5 Lucy Bronze (Liverpool), 3 Demi Stokes (University of South Florida); 8 Fara Williams (C; Liverpool), 7 Karen Carney (Birmingham City), 4 Anita Asante (Malmo); 11 Toni Duggan (Manchester City), 9 Natasha Dowie (Liverpool), 17 Gemma Davison (Liverpool).
Substitutes: 18 Jill Scott (Manchester City) for Asante, 51; 22 Eniola Aluko (Chelsea) for Davison, 58; 24 Kelly Smith (Arsenal) for Dowie, 66; 9 Lianne Sanderson (Boston Breakers) for Carney, 66.
Substitutes not used: 13 Carly Telford (Notts County), 12 Jade Moore (Birmingham City), 20 Ellen White (Notts County).
Bookings: Williams, 37.
France: 16 Sarah Bouhaddi, 2 Wendie Renard, 4 Laura Georges, 8 Jessica Houara, 9 Eugenie Le Sommer, 10 Camille Abily, 12 Elodie Thomis, 14 Louisa Necib, 15 Elise Bussaglia, 17 Gaetane Thiney, 20 Griedge Mbock Bathy.
Substitutes: 19 Marina Makanza for Thomis, 53; 23 Kheira Hamraoui for Le Sommer, 69; 18 Marie Laure Delie for Thiney, 77.
Substitutes not used: 1 Celine Deville, 5 Sabrina Delannoy, 7 Corine Franco, 11 Laetitia Tonazzi, 13 Camille Catala, 21 Laetitia Phillipe, 22 Amel Majri, 24 Viviane Asseyi.
Goals: Gaetane Thiney (6) Abily (18)
Bookings: Le Sommer (15), Bussaglia (43).