France 3 - England 2: Not even the controversial use of video assistant referees could prevent Gareth Southgate’s England from succumbing to defeat in their season-ending friendly against France.
Touching tributes to the victims of the recent Manchester and London terror attacks made way for a surprisingly entertaining match, with captain Harry Kane opening the scoring early on at the end of a fine Three Lions move.
Samuel Umtiti and Djibril Sidibe turned things around for the hosts before half-time, with Ousmane Dembele wrapping up a deserved 3-2 win as France made light of Kane’s equaliser and Raphael Varane’s sending off as VARs were utilised for the first time in an England match.
Confusion reigned for a minute inside the Stade de France as referee Davide Massa waited to hear from video assistant team of Marco Guida and Massimiliano Irrati, with the penalty compounded by Varane’s controversial red card for bringing down Dele Alli.
On-field bemusement was echoed by the home support, whose frustration would be lifted by their exciting side.
Outrageously-talented 18-year-old Kylian Mbappe hit the bar and provided the pass that saw Dembele secure Didier Deschamps’ 10 men victory.
England’s 3-4-3 formation did not work anywhere near as effectively as in March’s friendly in Germany, leading to an eventual switch to a four-man defence on an evening that gives Southgate plenty to ponder this summer.
England started in style though. After nine minutes
Alli’s crossfield ball was controlled by Raheem Sterling, before smartly putting in the overlapping Ryan Bertrand with a superb backheel. The left-back sent in a low cross to the far post for Kane to finish a superb team move.
Olivier Giroud’s frustration was visible after an offside call saw his superb acrobatic goal cancelled out, before Dembele somehow directed wide after bursting through to latch onto a pass from Mbappe.
They were warning signs Southgate’s men failed to heed. Giroud was allowed to meet a free-kick with a powerful header that Tom Heaton did well to stop. But the Burnley goalkeeper, making his first start, could not stop Umtiti rifling home the loose ball.
France capitalised on England’s fragile defence two minutes before half-time.
Dembele led the charge and played the ball out wide, only for Gary Cahill’s intervention to play it back into his path. Showing great composure he cut in and got away a shot that Heaton denied, only for France to score another rebound as Sidibe turned in.
The second period got off to a controversial start. Alli’s burst into the box ended under pressure from Varane, with referee Massa pointing to the spot and referring to the video assistants.
Confusion reigned at the Stade in the minute between awarding the penalty and handing a straight red to Varane, with Kane then stepping up to beat Tottenham team-mate Lloris from the spot.
Butland did well to deny Mbappe before dawdling Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was robbed of possession, allowing the French teen to unleash a shot that rattled the bar.
Shaky England were punished in the 78th minute. Paul Pogba put through Mbappe, whose pass wide was met by a nice touch and low drive from Dembele that beat Butland.
Lloris, Mendy (Digne 21), Umtiti, Varane, Sidibe (Jallet 89), Lemar, Pogba, Kante, Dembele, Mbappe-Lottin, Giroud (Koscielny 52). Not Used: Areola, Kimpembe, Griezmann, Payet, Matuidi, Rabiot, Sissoko, Lacazette, Tolisso, Zouma, Thauvin, Costil.
Heaton (Butland 46), Trippier (Lallana 76), Jones (Cresswell 81), Cahill, Bertrand (Walker 46), Stones, Dier, Sterling, Alli, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Kane. Not Used: Gibson, Smalling, Livermore, Defoe, Rashford, Lingard, Forster, Hart.
Davide Massa (Imperia).
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