England’s Euro preparations are well underway, and last night they faced off against their toughest test of the summer so far in the form of reigning champions the Netherlands.
England manager Sarina Wiegman’s former charges came into the tie in mixed form with a recent loss to France sandwiched between a draw with Czech Republic and a 12-0 hammering of Cyprus.
On the other hand, England’s form is excellent, five wins on the bounce but victory over the talented Germany during that run is the only really significant challenge so they’ll have been hoping to learn a bit more about themselves before the tournament kicks off on July 6th.
If you missed last night’s game then read on to see how the Lionesses fared.
The game started quite calmly with both sides feeling each other out. The first ten minutes told us that England were playing quite a high press, happy to leave plenty of players in the opposition half and force the Dutch centre halves into playing long balls. Which they did and were duly swept up comfortably.
15 minutes in and the Netherlands fashioned the first half chance (quarter even maybe) as a well-worked move down the right found its way into the box, their striker laid it off to Beerensteyn who was really well tackled by Kiera Walsh. At the other end, Hemp got involved, charging down the keeper whose clearance ricoched out of play off the forward.
The Netherlands really began to control the play with plenty of possession as England struggled to keep the ball. Beerensteyn got another shot away among a crowd of defenders which was well saved and eventually cleared - shaky stuff at the back.
The pressure was on and it eventually told. The Dutch with a high press of their own caused England defenders all kinds of trouble, losing the ball on the edge of their own box and conceding a corner. The outswinging ball met the head of Lieke Martens, who guided it wonderfully across goal and into the corner to make it 1-0.
The visitors continued to carry some momentum going forward, winning another corner that this time beat everyone and went out of play before England regained a foothold in the game. Fran Kirby was on hand to ask questions of the Dutch defence, who could only foul her - and the resulting free kick was aimed low and well saved.
Soon, though, England got one back.
This time, it was the high press from the Lionesses that caused issues. A slack pass was picked up by Kirby who was tackled, and the ball zipped across the pitch to Bronze on the right who dribbled forward, picking out a cross and floating the ball deftly over the top of the keeper and into the far corner. The “was it a cross or a shot debate” appeared for a moment but as good as Lucy Bronze is, it was definitely a cross.
England will take it though - a great response to going behind.
The latter stages of the first half were much like the start - plenty of graft from both sides, and ultimately the defences were on top going into half time.
The action started almost immediately in the second half as the Dutch played another long ball in behind, and this time half time substitute Danielle Van De Donk was on the end of it and through on goal before being tackled by the retreating Alex Greenwood.
The referee waved play on, leading everyone to believe it was a great last ditch challenge, but the replays showed that she got none of the ball. Unfortunately for England on this occasion, VAR was in use - so the referee was quickly alerted to the error, and after a quick look at the pitchside monitor, gave Netherlands a penalty. Oh, and a yellow card to Greenwood for good measure.
Spitse, the captain, stepped up to take it and put it wide of the goal! A huge let off for England - could they capitalise?
Yes, yes they could.
Almost immediately after the penalty, England came back the other way, building up play down the left hand side nicely until Hemp delivered a great ball into the centre, where one of England’s half time changes and ex-Sunderland forward Beth Mead was on hand to convert.
Football can be a cruel game sometimes.
The next quarter of an hour or so was quiet in comparison, and saw both sides cancelling each other out, but England definitely had more of the ball and territory. Importantly, a raft of substitutions for both sides took place, as you’d expect from a friendly.
After the subs, England really started to kick it up a notch. We rarely had any defending to do and chances were being created. Hemp again causing trouble down the left whipped a peach of a ball into Mead in the box, but the striker was crowded out by the Dutch defenders.
Then, another England goal, and another move involving Hemp again - this time finding the overlapping Ella Toone, who did well to cut inside with the ball and get a shot away from the edge of the box, curling to the keeper's left - who got there, but allowed it to roll under her and in. It was a lovely move and a well-deserved reward for England’s play, but the Netherland’s keeper will want to forget that one - she should have been saving it.
Another goal soon followed, and the Lionesses were really purring by this point.
This time they worked it well down the right-hand side - Lucy Bronze on the overlap, as she so often is, pulled the ball into the box and caused chaos, and whilst the Netherland’s tried to clear their lines, the ball fell perfectly onto the right foot of Lauren Hemp, who volleyed the ball first time back where it came from and into the corner of the goal. It was a wonderful finish to cap off a superb performance for England’s number 11, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see her play a really important role in the tournament.
The following fifteen minutes were more of the same from England, and although Netherlands did manage to have some possession, it was all very simple to marshal for the home side.
The substitutions and the penalty miss clearly upset the Dutch, while England’s subs completely took over - and Beth Mead was at it again.
A cross was cut back into the box, and Mead’s positioning and awareness was excellent, finishing expertly.
A comprehensive victory from England - and how good is it to see a product of Sunderland’s academy on the international stage playing so well?
As the game came to a close, England weren’t done as a strike hit the bar in the 94th minute before the referee called time to what was a really big marker laid down by the Lionesses.