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'Unnecessary' defeat leaves England with Euro qualifying task

Sarina Wiegman and Keira Walsh
Sarina Wiegman was taking charge of her 50th match with England [Getty Images]

England's 2-1 defeat by France in Newcastle has left them with some catching up to do if they want to secure qualification for next summer's Euros.

They trail leaders France by five points in Group A3 having lost one and drawn one in their two home games so far.

Aside from a routine victory over the Republic of Ireland in Dublin, it has been a difficult qualifying campaign for the European champions, albeit against tough opposition.

It does not get any easier for Sarina Wiegman's side as they travel to Saint-Etienne for a second meeting with France on Tuesday.

"We have to win out in France if we want to be in a good position in July," Wiegman told BBC Radio 5 Live.

"Today we wanted to go and win and most of the time we played well. As a team and in defence, we did pretty good.

"We're very disappointed now, that is very clear because really we all feel it was very unnecessary - but then we'll move onto Tuesday."

No Greenwood and Earps' injury

Wiegman believes England's performance was better than the level they showed against Sweden and the Republic of Ireland.

But they were still far from convincing.

With both Millie Bright and Leah Williamson available to play together for the first time since February 2023, Wiegman opted for them as a centre-back pairing, leaving in-form Manchester City defender Alex Greenwood on the bench.

Bright's lack of match sharpness was evident as France's pacy forwards threatened, while England's backline were undone by two set-pieces on the night.

Their concerns were made worse through an early injury to goalkeeper Mary Earps - forced off with a hip problem minutes into her 50th appearance for England.

The Lionesses took the lead through Beth Mead but France responded well and were rewarded when volleys from Elisa de Almeida and Marie-Antoinette Katoto beat substitute goalkeeper Hannah Hampton.

"It is very disappointing. We should have won the game," added Wiegman.

"No matter how good the goals were, you have a chance to stop it. The first one was fantastic and so was the second. We definitely need to tighten up on second balls."

Wiegman was asked about her decision to leave out Greenwood, particularly with four right-footed defenders starting.

"Of course it’s ideal to have a left-footer too, Millie [Bright] can play with her left foot on the right side, Leah [Williamson] is pretty comfortable on the left side," said Wiegman.

"That was also a consideration for this game. Alex is a good defender, she has done very well over the last period.

"Today, I chose Millie and Leah. That defence, I thought we needed in the centre because of the qualities of France. They’re very pacy, very powerful. I think that was the right decision."

'I still thought we did well'

Lucy Bronze reacts to England defeat
Lucy Bronze was one of eight players who started against France and featured in every Euro 2022 match [Getty Images]

It was Wiegman's 50th match in charge and she said it was "a very unnecessary loss" but maintained her belief that England played well for most of the game.

However, question marks are growing at the lack of rotation within the starting XI.

Despite calling up several new players in recent months, including Manchester United midfielder Grace Clinton, Manchester City's Jess Park and Chelsea's Aggie Beever-Jones, Wiegman named a side against France that consisted of eight of the 11 starters from Euro 2022.

Asked whether Wiegman believed she needed to mix it up more, she said: "I think if you look at the last camp, we have played many players and have brought in many players.

"We’re trying to get players closer to more minutes. With the technical staff and I, we decided before the game on this."

She waited until the 79th minute to bring on midfielder Fran Kirby and forward Chloe Kelly but Wiegman says it is because she did not want to change the dynamic.

With England controlling more possession (58%) and having more shots on goal (12) than France's seven, the statistics suggest her side were on top.

But England lacked intensity and gave the ball away sloppily.

"I took so long [to make changes] because I thought we played well," said Wiegman.

"If you bring other players in, then the dynamics change - which sometimes we want because you want new energy. But I still thought we did well.

"Then we conceded and we had a chat about what kind of midfield we wanted to get a little different players. That’s why we waited a little longer."

Wiegman was bullish in her responses, appearing calm and assured of her decisions but she knows England cannot afford to slip-up in France and fall further behind in their qualifying campaign.