France survived a spirited fightback from Wales to earn a 2-1 World Cup qualifying win in Llanelli.
Wales fashioned some opportunities before the break, but fell behind when Wendie Renard rose to head in a corner.
A nightmare moment for goalkeeper Laura O’Sullivan led to France’s second after the break as her clearance was charged down by Marie-Antoinette Katoto, who could not miss.
Captain Sophie Ingle fired Wales back into contention, but France held firm.
The defeat leaves Wales third in World Cup qualifying group I, albeit with their hopes of finishing second and earning a play-off berth still in their own hands.
Wales boss Gemma Grainger made two changes to the side that impressed against France in defeat in November, with Ceri Holland joining the attack in place of the suspended Kayleigh Green, while Rachel Rowe made a timely return at left-back with Esther Morgan ruled out through injury.
France made three changes to the side which beat Wales, with Renard, Sakina Karchaoui and Griedge Mbock coming into a revamped defence.
Corrine Diacre’s side featured seven players from PSG or Lyon, showing France’s calibre, and they made an impressive start in Llanelli with Wales doing well to contain them in the early exchanges.
Wales were breached on 16 minutes when Kadidiatou Diani fired a shot at goal which struck the post, with Diani then hitting the rebound just wide as she stuck across goal, a clear warning for the hosts.
At the other end, Wales also looked threatening when they got forward, with two crosses from Carrie Jones causing chaos, but Jess Fishlock could not make a clean contact with the ball as Grainger’s side missed a good opportunity to lead.
Jones also tested goalkeeper Pauline Peyraud-Magnin with a shot from a difficult angle as the hosts began to win more of the ball in key midfield battles, but they were undone by a set-piece.
The visitors has scored 37 goals in their previous six qualifiers and their immense goal threat was underlined when they took the lead just past the half hour as captain Renard rose to head home Sandie Toletti’s corner.
The goal meant there was no room for error for Wales in the second half as they needed to chase the game.
But the hosts gifted France a second goal when O’Sullivan took too many touches and saw her attempted clearance charged down by Katoto, who rolled home her 10th goal in seven qualifiers.
Wales thought they had a path back into proceedings when Fishlock was sent tumbling in the penalty area, but referee Jana Adamkova judged the foul to have happened outside the box.
However, with their spirit undiminished, Wales did force their way back into things with a goal on 71 minutes as Sophie Ingle struck through a crowded penalty area as France failed to clear Rowe’s clever corner.
Wales even thought for a few magical seconds they had levelled when Gemma Evans headed home just two minutes later, but she was rightly judged offside.
Wales pushed and pushed and left gaps with Evans doing brilliantly to clear a late effort off the line, but they could not find the crucial equaliser, even though they sent on fresh legs looking for a goal, with striker Helen Ward earning a late appearance and with it her 100th cap for her country.
- 11HardingSubstituted forMorganat 90+1′minutes
- 18HollandBooked at 43minsSubstituted forWardat 90+2′minutes
- 2PérissetSubstituted forPalisat 89′minutes
- 19Mbock Bathy
- 6TolettiSubstituted forDaliat 77′minutes
- 8GeyoroSubstituted forTorrentat 89′minutes
- 9KatotoSubstituted forMateoat 77′minutes
- 20CascarinoSubstituted forBaltimoreat 63′minutes
Match ends, Wales Women 1, France 2.
Second Half ends, Wales Women 1, France 2.
Marion Torrent (France) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Gemma Evans (Wales Women).
Foul by Kenza Dali (France).
Rachel Rowe (Wales Women) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Sakina Karchaoui (France).
Carrie Jones (Wales Women) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Ella Palis (France) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Sophie Ingle (Wales Women).
Attempt missed. Kadidiatou Diani (France) right footed shot from the centre of the box is high and wide to the right. Assisted by Kenza Dali with a cross.
Substitution, Wales Women. Helen Ward replaces Ceri Holland.
Substitution, Wales Women. Ffion Morgan replaces Natasha Harding.
Substitution, France. Ella Palis replaces Eve Périsset because of an injury.
Substitution, France. Marion Torrent replaces Grace Geyoro.
Corner, Wales Women. Conceded by Griedge Mbock Bathy.
Foul by Kenza Dali (France).
Angharad James (Wales Women) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Attempt blocked. Kenza Dali (France) right footed shot from the centre of the box is blocked. Assisted by Clara Mateo.
Attempt blocked. Kenza Dali (France) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Charlotte Bilbault.
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