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England Women take vital step towards Euro 2025 with victory over France

France 1-2 England (Diani P 72’ | Stanway 21’, Russo 34’)

STADE GEOFFROY-GUICHARD — In the back streets of Saint-Etienne, England’s travelling fans spent a day defying the blistering heat by serenading the locals with songs of their status as champions of Europe. As the Lionesses shattered France’s 100 per cent record in Group A3, they finally looked a little more like it.

Sarina Wiegman will hope a pivotal victory – their first in France in over half a century – can now prove a turning point in what had been an underwhelming Euro 2025 qualifying campaign, her side taking a significant step towards the automatic spots as they fight to avoid the play-offs.

When so much of the football has been scrappy, unenticing, perhaps what England needed was just one moment to smash away the cobwebs.

There are rarely goals as aesthetically pleasing as the one Georgia Stanway leathered first time past Pauline Peyraud-Magnin. Alessia Russo had scanned the danger, turned her back and found Lauren Hemp, who teed up Stanway to hit it through Sakina Karchaoui’s legs from 25 yards out.

Stanway’s celebrations did not appear to go down well with the home crowd, which was vociferous if relatively small. English fist pumps and roars are never going to be happily received this side of the Channel, but it was telling of the pressure that has been building.

In the return match last Friday – a 2-1 defeat at St James’ Park – England had totally lost momentum after taking the lead. Not this time. Hemp was involved again for the second, providing a dipping cross that Russo just managed to get her head onto.

Only when Gracce Geyoro’s footing got the better of Leah Williamson in the box – Kadidiatou Diani converted the penalty – did France seriously threaten a revival.

For Wiegman, the result will ultimately have felt like a vindication. Despite the clamour for her to make changes, she had named exactly the same outfield starters (with Hannah Hampton replacing Mary Earps in goal due to a hip injury) as last week.

Russo, keeping her place as the lone striker, excelled; first, she missed from yards out, then directed one header straight at the ‘keeper, but the goal eventually came and her hold-up play was instrumental to England’s success.

On the nights when it does not work, Wiegman’s resoluteness can be interpreted as a refusal to shift gear; when it comes off, her ability to remain unflinching in the face of scrutiny is one of her greatest assets.

It is why those supporters still wearing their “Champions 2022” shirts are so confident that they will be booking flights to Switzerland in good time. France had planned to invite them on and hit them on the counter. Instead it was the hosts who at times lapsed into chaos.

England knew that they had to keep pace with Sweden, who had done their part by beating the Republic of Ireland 1-0 in the group’s other match. Beth Mead had conceded that as champions, England have a target on their backs, but there can be no question marks over how they handled the weight of that tag – even as they had to sit deep when France finally sprung into life, Hampton’s one-handed save in the final throes a heroic moment.

The damage a play-off would do cannot be underestimated, given the risk of missing out on seeding at next summer’s tournament or even failing to qualify altogether. England are not out of the woods yet but they looked much more recognisable as the side that everyone in these qualifiers once feared.

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