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Battling Wales go down to France

Wales 1 (Ingle 71)

France 2 (Renard 31, Katoto 57)

att: 4,553; at Parc y Scarlets, Llanelli

Helen Ward chalked up her 100th cap as Wales continued their 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup qualifying campaign with a narrow 2-1 defeat against France at Parc y Scarlets.

Wendie Renard's first half header and a strike from Marie-Antoinette Katoto in the second period put France in a commanding position with 30 minutes left. Wales captain Sophie Ingle reduced the deficit when she fired home a deflected shot from the edge of the area but Les Bleuses held out to earn their seventh straight qualifying win and move seven points clear at the top of Group I.

It was a special evening for Watford striker Ward, who was greeted with a standing ovation by the 4,553 attendance in Llanelli, as she joined Gareth Bale, Loren Dykes, Jessica Fishlock, Chris Gunter, Sophie Ingle and Wayne Hennessey in Cymru's 100-cap club.

Gemma Grainger made two changes from the 2-0 defeat against France in their last qualifier in November, with Rachel Rowe and Ceri Holland named in the starting line up in place of the injured Esther Morgan and Kayleigh Green, who missed out through suspension.

Kadidiatou Diani, who netted in the last meeting between the two sides, posed a threat early on and came close to opening the scoring when she fired a low effort at Laura O'Sullivan's near post.

The Paris Saint-Germain forward then had another opportunity to break the deadlock as she got on the end of a neat backheel from Sandie Toletti and flashed an effort marginally wide of the post.

Carrie Jones enjoyed Wales’ first chance in front of goal when she got the better of defender Eve Perisset, cut inside on her right foot and saw her effort saved by Pauline Peyraud-Magnin.

Wales had caused problems for the French defence in the opening thirty minutes but they fell behind on the half hour mark after Toletti's corner picked out Renard, who nodded beyond O'Sullivan.

France enjoyed the majority of possession throughout the first half and began the second period in the same vein. Gemma Evans did well to prevent Katoto from getting on the end of an inviting cross from Perisset, but the striker found France's second three minutes later. O'Sullivan looked to get the ball to safety but saw her attempted clearance blocked by Katoto, who was able to stroke the ball home into an empty net.

Down the opposite end, Cymru felt they should have had a penalty when Fishlock weaved past two defenders and went down in the area, but referee Jana Adamkova awarded Grainger's side a free kick outside the box. Fishlock stepped up to take the set piece but saw her effort sail harmlessly over the bar.

However, Wales finally managed to halve the deficit with 19 minutes left on the clock through Ingle. After winning the hosts a corner, Rowe's delivery caused problems in the penalty area and the ball was scrambled away as far as Ingle, whose low shot found its way past Peyraud-Magnin with the aid of a deflection.

Evans thought she had levelled for Grainger's side just three minutes after the restart when she headed home, but an offside flag cut short the celebrations and denied Wales, who were unable to find a late equaliser as the French side closed the game out for another victory.

Wales: Laura O’Sullivan, Rhiannon Roberts, Rachel Rowe, Sophie Ingle, Gemma Evans, Hayley Ladd, Ceri Holland (sub Helen Ward 90mins), Angharad James, Carrie Jones, Jessica Fishlock, Natasha Harding (sub Ffion Morgan 90mins). Subs not used: Olivia Clark, Poppy Soper, Lily Woodham, Josie Green, Chloe Williams, Elise Hughes, Charlie Estcourt, Georgia Walters, Megan Wynne, Anna Filbey.

France: Pauline Peyraud-Magnin, Eve Perisset (sub Marion Torrent 89mins), Sakina Karchaoui, Griedge Mbock Bathy, Wendie Renard, Sandie Toletti (sub Kenza Dali 77mins), Charlotte Bilbault, Grace Geyoro (sub Ella Palis 89mins), Marie-Antoinette Katoto (sub Clara Mateo 77mins), Delphine Cascarino (sub Sandy Baltimore 63mins), Kadidiatou Diani. Subs not used: Solene Durand, Mylene Chavas, Aissatou Tounkara, Ouleymata Sarr, Perle Morroni, Viviane Asseyi, Hawa Cissoko.