MONCTON, New Brunswick -- The opening Group F match in Moncton served as good as an announcement as any of France's intentions to capture the Women's World Cup. England is a decent squad, but it was allowed little time on the ball to show it. Its frustration at being denied the ball so much didn't help it stay calm on the few opportunities it did have. Though France didn't run up a gaudy goal total like some other squads have, its cool control of the game bodes well for a deep tournament run and perhaps ultimately the title.
Here are three observations from the game.
1. France's control equals power
It wasn't just that France dominated the ball 59 percent of the time -- it's that for about 70 percent of the game, the ball was in England's half of the field. This allowed France to work the ball around and create a number of chances. France had nine shots in the first half alone, compared to only one from England.
England played better in the second half, but even then, France's stifling control and steady passing limited the opportunities for the Three Lionesses.
When a squad gets so much time on the ball and generally keeps the ball in the danger area to score, there's a sort of wilting desperation exhibited by the other side. It's disheartening to generate so few attacking plays because one's side hardly has the ball. Even though the Swiss lost to Japan in their match the day before, they were probably encouraged by the chances they were able to create. England wasn't given much hope.
France's passing game suffocates teams by quietly, yet steadily, denying opponents the key ingredient needed to score -- the ball. It's a very powerful tool for a team's arsenal.
2. France's control still needs Le Sommer's verve
Despite France's possession dominance and the multiple attacks on goal, England's scrappy defending kept the French at bay for long stretches of the game. Karen Bardsley was solid in goal. The England players dug in and chased the ball relentlessly, gamely hanging on for the few counterattack opportunities they were able to muster.
Though France features a number of talented players, against a stout defense such as England, it needed Eugenie Le Sommer and her extra portion of not only skill on the ball, but also creativity and guts, to try a shot few can manage. Her talent for goals is matched by her audacity around the area. That's exactly what France needs to push it on in a game that it deserved to win, but without her might have had to settle for a draw.
3. England misses Kelly Smith
Sure, it's time for England to look forward to the future, and its compact shape and organization throughout the game needs to be commended. Against another squad, it might be able to show off more attacking progress as well. But the silky dribbling talent of the now-retired Smith, as well as her sixth sense of when to shoot for the goal, is rare and sorely needed if England is to compete with the world's best.
Just before the final whistle, substitute Francesca Kirby got the ball at her feet, heading into the box. The crowd in Moncton gasped with delight, hoping for a goal at the death. However, Kirby's slight hesitation on whether to shoot allowed France to clear the ball and kill the attack. England needs to find its fearlessness in order to avoid an early exit.