PARIS • England manager Gareth Southgate admitted Tuesday's 3-2 friendly defeat by France in Paris provided further evidence of how far his side still have to go before they can be considered contenders at next year's World Cup Finals.
The visitors could not hold on to an early lead by Harry Kane and ended up losing despite the hosts playing most of the second half with 10 men at the Stade de France.
Kane scored a brace, with the second coming from the penalty spot after Raphael Varane was sent off. In between the two goals, Samuel Umtiti and Djibril Sidibe netted for France, before Ousmane Dembele got their late winner.
It was the third successive friendly match that England have failed to win under Southgate, after a 2-2 draw with Spain in November and a 0-1 loss in Germany in March.
However, the manager insisted that the gap to those sides is no bigger than what he imagined.
"If I'm honest, it is absolutely what I thought it would be," he said.
"We have been competitive in all three games but we needed to play at our absolute limits to stay in all of those matches and that has shown in the end.
"Those three games have provided different tests. With Spain it was their ability to keep the ball better than us. Today it was slightly different, but physically the demands their players posed meant we started to tire and that led to a mistake for the third goal."
England are on course to qualify for next year's World Cup Finals in Russia, despite needing a last-gasp Kane goal to get a 2-2 qualifier draw in Scotland last weekend.
But just setting foot in France, where they suffered a humiliating exit from Euro 2016 to Iceland, reminded them of their poor record at major tournaments.
Said Kane, who captained the side for the match: "We just weren't good enough.
"They were getting too much space in vital areas, even with 10 men. It's disappointing.
"We were in the driver's seat but we didn't step it up another gear. Not good enough."
The match saw the intervention of the video assistant referee (VAR) early in the second half after the referee gave the penalty for Varane's foul on Dele Alli.
The video assistant - being used in an ongoing trial by Fifa - ruled that Varane's foul was a straight red card offence.
Southgate said: "From my initial viewing I thought it was the right call. Clearly, even with video, you won't get every decision right. There is still an element of one person's judgment within that."
France, on the other hand, were fuming at the decision to dismiss Varane, even though coach Didier Deschamps was delighted with the way his side battled with 10 men.
"Things became complicated a bit with the red card and the penalty which looked more than harsh to me, even if it didn't matter in the end," he said.
The match was preceded by tributes to the victims of recent terror attacks in Britain, with French fans singing "God Save the Queen" and observing a minute's silence.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN