England’s final game of the season ended in defeat as they were deservedly beaten by effervescent France in an entertaining friendly in Paris.
Harry Kane provided England with the perfect start when he turned in Ryan Bertrand’s cross after only nine minutes – but the pace and movement of the France attack was soon proving too much for manager Gareth Southgate’s experimental three-man defence.
Burnley goalkeeper Tom Heaton, who played for 45 minutes before being replaced by Stoke City’s Jack Butland, managed to keep out efforts from Olivier Giroud and Ousmane Dembele, only for first Samuel Umtiti and then Djibril Sidibe to pounce and put the hosts ahead at the break.
England were level three minutes after half-time when Kane scored from the penalty spot following a collision between Raphael Varane and Dele Alli which required the intervention of the video assistant referee Marco Guido.
He confirmed referee Davide Massa’s original decision to award the spot-kick, resulting in the sending off of Varane, much to the disgust of the France players and the home crowd.
France, inspired by the brilliance of Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba, Borussia Dortmund forward Dembele and 18-year-old Monaco striker Kylian Mbappe, were unbowed and tormented England’s defence. It was no surprise when their winner came 12 minutes from time -and fittingly it was Mbappe who set up Dembele for a powerful, low finish.
It was a night when there were emotional scenes before kick-off, with the crowd singing the Oasis hit Don’t Look Back In Anger and France fans joining England supporters in singing the national anthem in memory of those who died in the Manchester and London attacks.
Kane strengthens captaincy claims
England manager Southgate is at pains to point out that he has made no decision on his next permanent captain – but surely there is now no other choice but Kane.
Kane not only added another two goals to the late equaliser he scored against Scotland in Saturday’s World Cup qualifier, taking his tally to an impressive eight in 19 appearances, he carries himself with an assured air that makes him a natural fit as a player and captain at this level.
Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson may come into consideration when fit but Kane is a mature and popular individual who, barring misfortune, will lead England’s attack for years to come.
Southgate may not have made his mind up yet, or at least not made his thoughts public, but it is hard to see anyone but Kane as England’s long-term skipper.
Stones struggles on tough night
The pre-match talk was of Southgate exploring the possibility of using John Stones in a defensive midfield role after bemoaning his lack of options in that department.
Stones was doing his day job as a central defender in France – and struggled desperately in the face of the verve and threat France provided with the likes of Mbappe and Dembele.
Dembele embarrassed Manchester City’s £47.5m defender when he stepped inside him in the build-up to Sidibe’s second goal for France and Stones was reduced to hauling back the brilliant Mbappe when he proved too much for him again in the second half.
The 23-year-old has undoubted talent but had a difficult first campaign at Etihad Stadium and his performance must be placed in the context of a lack of game time after suffering a muscular injury towards the end of last season.
This, however, was an uncomfortable night for a player Southgate will be counting on in the future.
England keepers have contrasting fortunes
Southgate employed his plan of using Burnley’s Tom Heaton as his first-half goalkeeper at Stade de France and then replacing him with Stoke’s Jack Butland after the break.
Heaton, 31, will look back on a painful night when he was not afforded protection by his defenders and two decent saves from Giroud and Dembele only resulted in goals for Umtiti and Sidibe.
Some may question whether Heaton could have pushed the efforts into safer territory, but his luck was out as England’s defence neither shielded him nor reacted quickly enough in either situation.
Butland distinguished himself with a good block from Mbappe, a fine save from the same player late on and also did well to thwart Dembele after Monaco’s teenage prodigy had hit the bar. It was a good night for the 24-year-old whose last England appearance in March 2016 resulted in the ankle injury that kept him sidelined for more than a year.
VAR a major talking point
The use of the video assistant referee was the centre of serious debate after Varane was sent off for bringing down Alli before Kane scored England’s penalty.
Referee Massa pointed to the spot before referring the decision to video assistant Guido, who was working with VAR supervisor Massimiliano Irrati.
After a delay, the penalty was awarded and Varane shown the red card – but it was hardly a convincing or definitive decision.
There was an element of doubt about Varane’s intentions as he stepped across Alli and the decision was met with incredulity by the France camp and infuriated the home fans.
Kane the goal machine – the stats
- England conceded three goals in an international for the first time since a 4-2 defeat by Sweden in November 2012.
- England have won only one of their past seven games against France, losing five.
- Harry Kane has now scored 11 times in his past five appearances for club and country.
- Kane is the first Tottenham player to score two goals in a match for England since Jermain Defoe against San Marino in March 2013.
- He has scored in consecutive England games for the first time since September 2015 against San Marino and Switzerland.
- Prior to this game, England had not conceded a first-half goal in their past eight matches, last conceding in the opening 45 minutes against Iceland at Euro 2016.
- Raphael Varane is the first France player to be sent off in a friendly since Frank Leboeuf in 1996.
England travel to Malta for a 2018 World Cup qualifier on 1 September, while France host the Netherlands the previous day.