England ‘don’t need to be at best to win’

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England are the top scorers at Euro 2017 and have a 100% record so far
Women’s Euro 2017 quarter-final: England v France
Venue: Deventer, the Netherlands Date: Sunday, 30 July Kick-off: 19:45 BST
Coverage: Listen on BBC Radio 5 live and online; live text commentary on the BBC Sport website; live on Channel Four

Manager Mark Sampson says England “do not need to be at our very best” to end a 43-year wait to beat France when they meet in the Euro 2017 quarter-final.

The Lionesses have lost to Les Bleues in their past three major tournaments and have failed to beat them in five games since Sampson took over in 2013.

But he said: “We want to be at our very best but the nice feeling is we don’t need to be to win on Sunday.

“If we are then there’s no question in my mind that we’ll win comfortably.”

In their most recent meeting, England conceded in injury time as they suffered a 2-1 defeat in the SheBelieves Cup in March.

Sampson, who has described French coach Olivier Echouafni as “wet behind the ears” because of his lack of tournament experience, added: “We have improved significantly since March and it’s a very different team.

“And on the back of watching the last four games against France I defy anyone who says there’s no evidence we can beat this France team.

“There’s no doubt in our minds that the belief and confidence to get the job done are exceptionally strong in this England team. I have full faith in their ability to find a way to win any match against anybody.”

Barbs fail to make impression on France

In the build-up to the game, Sampson has peppered Echouafni with barbs after the French coach suggested the Lionesses “did not want” to play France.

Welshman Sampson responded with his “wet behind the ears” comment, based on Echouafni being involved in only three matches to Sampson’s 10 at major tournaments.

But the French manager had a distinguished playing career with Marseille, Stade Rennais and Nice before managing men’s teams Amiens and Sochaux, whereas Sampson has little comparable experience, having worked with Swansea City’s academy and then women’s side Bristol Academy.

Sampson defended his remarks by saying: “We’re a team of street fighters and when we’re poked our reaction is to poke back.”

When the “wet behind the ears” comments were put to Echouafni, he shrugged it off, adding: “He’s right, it’s good that I’m new. But I think that [the comment] is fair and square.

“It will be the second game between us since I took over this France team and I’ve got a lot of respect for this head coach. I think he’s done a lot for English women’s football so maybe we didn’t expect to play each other at this moment in the competition but it is that way.”

French midfielder Camille Abily, who has won four Champions League titles, responded to Sampson’s suggestion that they did not need to be at their very best to win by saying: “Personally I don’t read the declarations of Mark Sampson or anyone else.

“I’m happy for them if they are confident – but I am too. I trust my team and maybe we can talk at the end of the game.”

Form versus experience?

England reached the last eight after topping Group D with a 100% record and 10 goals scored, double the number of any other team in the group stages.

France, who are ranked above England, have failed to impress after scraping to second in their group courtesy of a 1-0 win over Iceland, a 1-1 draw with Austria and a 1-1 draw with Switzerland after being reduced to 10 players.

They will also be without defenders Eve Perisset and Wendie Renard, who has previously been a thorn in England’s side after scoring the winner in the SheBelieves Cup and also finding the net in a 3-0 win at Euro 2013.

Lionesses defender Casey Stoney, who says she is fit to start and who played in the 2011 World Cup and Euro 2013 defeats by France, said: “I look at our squad and their squad and I’d want to be in my England team right now, not the French. There have not been many years gone by where I could say that.”

Women’s Euros 2017: Casey Stoney has ‘100% belief’ that England can beat France

But there is a vast gulf in experience between the teams, particularly when it comes to Champions League pedigree. Twelve of France’s squad played in this season’s final as Lyon beat Paris St-Germain on penalties, with the winning spot-kick scored by France goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi.

And they have 10 Champions League winners in their ranks compared to England’s two, with Bouhaddi and Abily both triumphing four times.

“Of course we respect this France team and they’ve got some unbelievable individual talent,” said Sampson. “But tournament football is when we’re at our best. We’ve shown that at the World Cup, where we’ve got 19 players with a bronze medal around their necks, and another 23 players who have three wins at this event under their belt.”

Analysis – Both coaches under pressure

BBC Radio 5 live commentator Jonathan Pearce

Sampson says he’s a street-fighter. That’s why he’s been happy to get involved in a verbal scrap with the French coach. But the spat shows that both men are under pressure.

France were so many people’s pre- tournament favourites, but they just squeezed through.

Big names in their side haven’t shone yet. Wendie Renard will be missed even though Laura Georges is a 180-capped replacement.

Eugenie Le Sommer can win a game in a blink of an eye. Amandine Henry, on the back of a very good 2015 World Cup, is their best player again.

England will need all of those street-fighting qualities to come out on top in the latest chapter of this old feud.

Sampson’s first XI will be back after getting a rest against Portugal, when England were well below par. I hope it hasn’t arrested their momentum. They’ll need Jodie Taylor and Fran Kirby to move the French defence around early on and they’ll need to get to grips with Henry.

England at their best can lay to rest that 43-year-old hoodoo. I said at the start they can win this tournament. I’m sticking to that.

Read more: All you need to know about the Euro 2017 quarter-finals

Read more: Jodie Taylor, from England outcast to Golden Boot favourite

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