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Plucky England 'prove people wrong' by beating France

Leah Williamson delivers a post-match team talk
Leah Williamson captained England to Euro 2022 success [Getty Images]

England's defeat by France on Friday was the fire they needed to reignite the types of performances that led them to European glory two years ago.

Beaten 2-1 in Newcastle, the Lionesses trudged away from St James' Park five points behind leaders France in their Euro 2025 qualifying group.

The result left them with one win, one draw and one defeat from their opening three games and captain Leah Williamson gathered the team together to discuss their indifferent form before Tuesday's reverse fixture in France.

Whatever was said, worked.

England got their revenge in Saint-Etienne on Tuesday night, winning 2-1 themselves, and putting in a stunning first-half performance which had shades of their Euro 2022 success running through it.

France responded in the second half, forcing Sarina Wiegman's side to battle through a nervous ending and cling on to a crucial victory.

"We needed that. We had some good talks after the last game," said midfielder Georgia Stanway, who opened the scoring with a stunning 20-yard strike.

"Leah [Williamson] just rounded us all up and we said we weren’t satisfied with the way it’s been. We need to up our level.

"We know it will take an even better, faster, more physically stronger and more technical team to win the Euros next year.

"[Tuesday's win] is a massive step in the right direction because we’ve beaten a team that beat us a few days ago with the possession that we want."

It wasn't just the victory that gave England a boost - it was their performance in the first half that swept France away.

England's centre-back pairing Williamson and Millie Bright were on top form, Lauren Hemp added a further two assists to her name and Alessia Russo was outstanding up front, hurrying and harrying the French defence.

But what was equally as impressive, was the way England battled through a scrappy second half and held on to fight off France's relentless pressure.

"Every single player was on it both in and out of possession. We battled like hell," added Stanway.

"We’ve had some games in the past that we maybe would have won and have not been satisfied with the way we played. But [Tuesday] was different.

"We know we need to take that to the next level and constantly demand it every single game."

'We proved people wrong'

There were question marks last week as England slipped down their qualifying group.

There was a lack of unpredictability and sloppiness in possession - and it is not the first time they underwhelmed this year.

But striker Russo says England "proved people wrong" and they are still capable of producing the goods.

"We wanted to show our standards, we wanted to show where we want to go as a team. We saw that [on Tuesday]," Russo told BBC Radio 5 Live.

"We knew there was no other thing than three points. We knew it was business. As soon as we scored, we went to get the ball to start again.

"We’re England, we’re the champions of this tournament. Our standards probably haven’t been where we want them to be."

'This is the standard - how we want to play'

England were forced to defend resolutely against France and they did, limiting them to just two shots on target.

When Marie-Antoinette Katoto did break through England's midfield, three players were back to defend it.

Lucy Bronze and Chloe Kelly made last-ditch blocks in stoppage-time to keep France's efforts out.

And goalkeeper Hannah Hampton reacted superbly, diving low to her left, to prevent Katoto scoring a late equaliser.

"There was a bit of extra fight," said defender Jess Carter.

"The standards haven't been good enough for a while. It's not out of a lack of trying but we just haven't found something else to lift us when things aren't necessarily going our way.

"We've got to keep fighting and grind our way through it, which is what this team has shown we can do. That was the difference [on Tuesday] - the fight."

Wiegman was frustrated by the "unneccesary" goals England conceded last week - both from set-pieces.

But she said there was an eagerness to put that right on Tuesday.

"We were really determined to do that better and to show, first of all to ourselves, but everyone else too, that we can beat France," she added.

"This is the standard - how we really want to play - and now we want to work hard every second of the game to be able to stay up there."