Changes were made by both teams for this game from the players selected to play in the midweek games. England made six changes to the side who faced Italy, and France changed eight of their players from the team who played Brazil. Both countries were experimenting with different squad members throughout this tournament. Unfortunately Glenn Hoddle could not play the forwards he would have liked. He wanted to try Paul Scholes, who had a magnificent game against Italy, alongside Shearer, but the youngster failed to recover from the hamstring injury he received on Thursday. Hopefully there will be time for the England coach to test this formation before the World Cup Finals start in a year's time, assuming England qualify. France were able to experiment with their forwards, playing Ouedec and Dugarry.
The main focus of the first half was on the referee who made many bad decisions and almost lost control of the game. The French were committing fouls and getting away with them. As Paul Ince said the French were "naughty"! France, however, did perform better than England during this period but failed to capitalise on their possession.
England did have opportunities though, and Shearer went close in the 34th minutes with a header. Then with four minutes of the half remaining, Ian Wright decided to inject some life into the game, but his close range effort was somehow stopped by Barthez, who steered the ball over the bar.
An example of the referee's poor decisions came in near the end of the first half when Phil Neville executed a perfectly timed tackle on a Djorkaeff breaking on the left, but the referee gave a foul. Neville had clearly got the ball and not the player. There was an even worse decision by the leading official when he earlier booked Beckham for not leaving the pitch on a stretcher when he required treatment for an injury, after being involved in a tackle with Viera. This was the Manchester United player's second caution of the tournament and he will now miss England's final game against Brazil on Tuesday.
During the interval Hoddle saw fit to make a change in midfield and substituted Ince for Batty. This seemed to give England a lift after the opening spell of the second half.
After a fairly disappointing game so far, the second half started as the first had ended, with some goal area action. This time it was France who came close to scoring. Dugarry had two attempts in two minutes. Both went over the bar via a volley and a header. Then Laigle tested Seaman when he hit the ball with a
powerful left foot volley from eighteen metres. England's goalkeeper did well to punch the ball away.
Shearer also had the chance to extend his goalscoring streak for England in the 66th minute but again he headed over the crossbar. From this point England seemed to pull together a bit better. Gascoigne, on this 50th appearance for England, later conducted an excellent move when he played a perfectly timed ball to Beckham who had beaten the offside trap. Beckham unfortunately took too long to line up his shot.
With the game in its closing stages, England finally got the ball passed Barthez. The French goalkeeper had had a terrific game and made only one mistake throughout the ninety minutes, but it cost his country the game. Sheringham, replacing Wright in the 81st minute, hit the ball from the right into the six yard area, Barthez came out to claim it but failed to hold it and Shearer, waiting to pounce, siezed the opportunity and scored. It was Shearer's eleventh goal in his last eleven internationals.
France tried to equalise in the dying moments but attempts amounted to nothing. After 48 years England had beaten France on their soil and it was the visitors sixth straight win. It was also the first time in the 125 years of the England national team that they had gone six away games without conceding a goal. It was a day for celebrating for England as they are also the first team to beat France since Bulgaria did so in December 1993.
After match comments:
Hoddle: "We knew it was going to be harder than the match against Italy and I am delighted we've got six wins in a row. It means we are finding the right balance - keeping clean sheets and scoring at the other end. We are looking for that cutting edge, and if you have that you're in with a good chance in football matches."
"If we come back for the World Cup next year then we're going to have to play in games like that. We had good chances in the first half, in the second they came at us, and we played deeper but with Alan Shearer in the team you always have a chance."
Shearer: "Our confidence is sky-high right now. We don't really want to use up all our luck now because you need some of that to win World Cups. But we feel we are at the top of the mountain, although we still have to go and prove ourselves against the best."
"When you're at the top, there is only one way to fall. We are not getting carried away because we haven't achieved anything yet. But we feel as though we have made progress and are going in the right direction. We have made a lot of progress under Glenn Hoddle in the last year, but we were a good team a year ago, and only failed on penalties to reach the European Final. I think we are improving all the time."
Jacquet: "The fans must be patient. This was a very tough game, but we are still evolving. But it is very frustrating to lose to a goal like that."
"We have established a working plan and are sticking to it. This defeat is in no way worrying. We must be patient."
Barthez, Laigle (Lizarazu 83 mins), Blanc, Djorkaeff, Deschamps, Dugarry, (Zidane 75 mins), Thuram, Viera, N'Gotty, Ouedec (Loko 63 mins), Keller.
Seaman, G Neville, Southgate, Le Saux, Beckham (Lee 75 mins), Gascoigne, Shearer, Campbell, P Neville, Batty (Ince 45 mins), Wright (Sheringham 80 mins).
England Scorer: Shearer (86 mins)
France Cautions: None
England Cautions: Batty, Beckham, Le Saux
Referee: S Belquola (Morroco)