The England dream to advance to the semi-finals ended in disaster last Saturday (10th December) as France secured a 2-1 victory in what many players past and present saw as one of the most intense and controversial games to grace the Qatar World Cup stage.
Having secured a recent 3-0 win against Senegal, all sights were set on England this weekend as they sought to secure themselves a place in the semi-finals against rival Morocco.
The 90 minute match( 8 minutes added for additional time), saw a trying time for the Lions.
On paper, England proved themselves to be the superior team for long spells of the match on Saturday, securing more passes (452 against 310), more shorts on target (16 with 8 on target), and overall greater possession (57%), than France (43%).
Players Bukayo Saka and Declan Rice proved England’s prowess with a sensational display of skill and tact that brought hope to fans and players alike- that England would pave the pathway to lift the World Cup trophy for the first time since 1966.
It was in the 17th minute that things began to take a turn for the worse…
A controversial early goal from France’s 22-year-old Midfielder, Aurelian Tchouamèni, assisted by Antoine Griezmann, left fans and players alike to question the competence of Brazilian Fifa Referee Wilton Sampaoir to oversee the match.
With Saka fouled just 45 seconds before Dayot Upamecano scored for France, fans and players became furious at the Ref’s decision to deny the Midfielder a free kick, resulting in Tchouameni making a break for it, and securing one in the back of the net against England.
In replays of the footage, Upamecano was seen to have caught Saka’s left foot, resulting in him losing possession of the ball and taking a tumble to the ground. Whilst VAR intervention wasn’t called for, players and fans passionately felt a free kick should have been awarded and France’s goal withdrawn (an incident we have not yet seen happen this world cup).
Former Referee Peter Walton, speaking on ITV showcasing the match, suggests one reason VAR intervention wasn’t called for to rule out France’s goal following the foul:
” They [VAR] could’ve went back and looked at it, in fact I think they did because it was the same attacking phase of play that France won the ball to the goal being scored.
“The issue is, was it a foul? I don’t think it was because he’s gone down very easily on the slightest of touches.
“We’ve not actually seen the replays. But that’s my opinion, he’s gone down too easily for the VAR to say he made a clear and obvious error.”
Whether Walton’s word is final or there is more to be said about the goal, it’s not likely to soften the blow for England fans as they now lose their place in the semi-finals.
Another later incident between England’s Striker, Harry Kane and Upamecano again saw controversy from Sampaio as England was denied a penalty and yet another opportunity to secure a win against France.
Catching Kane on the back of his calf as he entered the box, the England Striker took a tumble, his foot just inches from the box.
That was clearly a foul, but why wasn’t a penalty or the very least, a free kick offered?
According to FIFA, when it comes to VAR, the technology works by referencing the moment of contact where the foul takes place- in this case, where Kane‘s leg sits in relation to the line. If the foul were to take place on the line itself, it would have been allowed as it is associated with the box.
Despite Kane landing with a foot inside the line when the contact was made, FIFA officials rule the chance of penalty out . With VAR also unable to offer free-kicks, a decision which is fundamentally left to the Ref, the officials stuck with Sampaio’s decision to play on, leaving England to receive nothing from the incident.
After the match, Harry Maguire, Centre-Back for England, described Sampaio as “very poor” and commented how “He never gave us anything”.
Jude Bellingham said the Ref was:
‘Not great, if I am being honest, not great. Anyone can have a bad game- players and referees- but I think he wasn’t where he should have been in terms of the level for a game like this’.
Fast-forward to the second half, an early equalizer came by Kane in the form of a penalty, following Tchouameni‘s foul toward Saka (this time deemed notable by VAR) to draw England level with France at 1-1 in the 52nd minute.
Things were looking up for England as they obtained greater possession of the ball within the second half, but then, in the ’78 Olivier Giroud changed everything…
Scoring a sensational header following a perfect assist from Griezmann, things took a turn for the worse as Giroud edged in front of Maguire to shoot past Pickford.
Just look at the sensational goal from Giroud:
With the outcome of a win slipping from view for England, 12 minutes (with 8 minutes added extra time) was all that was left on the clock for them to secure a win.
Despite attempts from the likes of Kane, Shaw and Bellingham firing shots at French Keeper, Hugo Lloris, the player proved himself to be on form and prevented the onslaught from England. All hope was fading for fans and players as England raced against the clock.
Now facing a score of 2-1 to France, a draw was all England needed to help better their chances of securing a win. Mason Mount rushed to secure possession of the ball in the opposition’s box before being fouled by French player, Theo Hernandez, securing England yet another opportunity with penalties.
Opting in Captain Kane to take the shot, having secured one previously on behalf of Saka, it seemed almost certain for fans that Kane would score.
Fans took to the edge of their seats as Kane waited for the signal. The whistle blew, Kane took the shot, and the ball blazed over the bar of the goal. The dream was dashed.
A certain loss, not only for the country, but Kane too. With a record of 53 goals scored for England, Kane was on track to beat Wayne Rooney in becoming England’s all-time top scorer. His late penalty miss in the 84th minute proved decisive for the team, resulting in England becoming the only team to be knocked out of the semi-finals of the World Cup for the 7th time.
It seemed the pressure got to Kane. Having scored a previous penalty against Lloris, the England Captain met his rival for a second time, and floundered.
Eight minutes of added time saw England switch up their strategy –Marcus Rashford replaced Phil Foden in the final five minutes.
Awarded a free-kick, the Forward became England’s last hope as the clock raced toward stoppage time. With just 20 yards from securing a goal, tight margins saw Rashford send the ball over the net, but by a few inches. The final whistle blew, and the match drew to a close, resulting in a 2-1 win to France.
Whilst England had not won a knockout tie since 1990, Kane‘s penalty equalizer would have likely seen England continue as the stronger team.
Jordan Henderson, Midfielder for Liverpool and England, stated upon reflection:
“We had chances. We had moments in the game to go on and score maybe one or two more but were unlucky. The goals we conceded we will be disappointed with. But I can’t criticise anyone. It’s hard to difest now but we have everything so that’s all you can ever do in football- give your absolute best and sometimes it doesn’t go your way for certain reasons and unfortunately tonight it doesn’t go our way’.
Prince William also commented on the game and tweeted:
Whilst the match didn’t go as England fans had hoped, Gareth Southgate showed his true colours as England manager as he came onto the pitch to console Kane and his team, reflecting in a press conference how:
“Tonight is probably the best we’ve played against a major nation across the time I’ve been in charge”.
With only two years left of his contract, Southgate‘s future as England’s manager is uncertain.
One thing’s for sure however, Southgate has certainly produced one of the finest England teams to grace the World Cup stage in years.
Whilst the 2022 World Cup is no longer in sight, it’s onwards and upwards for the England squad. Perhaps 2026 will see England take to new heights, only time will tell…
For now, we take a backseat as France finds itself only two wins away from becoming the first back-to-back World Cup champion since Brazil in 1958 and 1962.