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England v Norway: Group A - UEFA Women’s EURO 2022

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Beth Mead shows her world-class talent as red-hot England take apart Norway

Euro 2022 truly came to life tonight as a thrilling six-goal first half was followed by two more in the second, and it was the ex-Sunderland combination of Mead and Bronze who took centre stage.

Photo by Harriet Lander/Getty Images

Serena Wiegman named an unchanged starting eleven to face the other giants of Group A, Norway, with Lucy Bronze and Beth Mead on the right, Rachel Daly and Lauren Hemp on the left, captain Leah Williamson in the back four, and Fran Kirby supporting Ellen White up front.

Public transport delays meant that there were concerns that the sell-out crowd of over 28,800 at the Amex on the outskirts of Brighton would not all be present for kick-off, yet the stadium filled quickly and the atmosphere in the ground built nicely for the biggest game of the tournament so far.

An all-star, Arsenal-dominated, lineup of pundits - Ian Wright, Alex Scott, and Jonas Eidevall - joined Gabby Logan on the BBC gantry to provide expert insights and they certainly hyped England’s chances - the Gunners’ boss suggesting that the Lionesses could even hit three or four against the Norwegian defence.

They also cautioned against complacency as the Lionesses would have Caroline Graham Hansen, Guro Reiten, and Ada Hegerberg to contend with.

The crowd roared as the players entered the arena, and they belted out the national anthems, and the scene was set for a much-anticipated matchup. But could the game live up to all the expectations?

England v Norway: Group A - UEFA Women’s EURO 2022 Photo by Lynne Cameron - The FA/The FA via Getty Images

First Half

The opening exchanges were cagey and it took a few minutes for either team to get the ball down and play. Although England were looking strong and confident there were few indications of what was about to unfold.

In the tenth minute Ellen White was grappled with just inside the box and went down very easily under pressure from Thorisdottir, but VAR didn’t step in to correct the penalty decision. It shouldn't have been given, but Georgia Stanway smashed it home to give England the lead.

Two minutes later Mead slid Stanway through, across the face of goal, Hemp couldn't get on the end of it, England recycled ball, Mead again, cuts in, Hemp clearly onside tapped it in. The officials once again made the wrong call, but this time the video ref did correct the error and the goal stood.

England v Norway: Group A - UEFA Women’s EURO 2022 Photo by Steve Bardens - UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images

England now had the bit between their teeth, Hemp breezing past defenders, forcing a corner which was whipped in and landed at the feet of Hemp, who couldn’t divert the ball home.

It was a frenzied few minutes, a chorus of “Football’s Coming Home” broke out as Norway sought to respond, getting their foot on the ball for the first time and creating a couple of half-chances.

England needed to work hard to deny the visitors clear-cut opportunities, with former Sunderland superstar Mead tracking back to cover Bronze then moments later she was at the other end, flighting a wonderful cross into the Norwegian box to White who, under pressure, couldn’t keep her volley down.

Then White, pressing energetically as ever, robbed Manchester United’s Maria Thorisdottirr, ran through one-on-one, and England’s all-time leading goalscorer confidently slotted home a third.

Mead could have added a fourth a minute later as Kirby found space and fed the Arsenal forward on the right of the box, but she dragged her shot wide. White then had another glit-edged opportunity following some interplay between Bronze and Mead, but Pettersen scrambled to her right to tip the ball around the post.

FBL-EURO-2022-WOMEN-ENG-NOR Photo by ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images

As the England wingers switched flanks the Manchester City youngster turned provider and Mead popped up in the centre to score the fourth goal with a rare header.

Mead was becoming almost unplayable, and on 38 she beat the whole Norway defence to net number five. Number 17 in 15 games under Wiegman for Mead - it was hard to believe what we were witnessing.

Relentless. Ruthless. Ridiculous. There was hardly time to take a breath between the waves of Lionesses’ attacks. White made it six with a wonderful diving back post finish from a great cross from Kirby.

This was the England performance we could have only dreamed of at 8 o’clock. By 8.47pm European football had been put on notice - this team and this player - our Meado - will take some stopping. Ian Wright’s joy was unbridled.


Second Half

England came out after half time and immediately picked up where they left off, Mead and Kirby playing with freedom and creating a great chance for Hemp who couldn't sort out her feet to score.

The press continued, Norway couldn’t get out of their own half for long periods and when they did, the England defence was on guard. Daly, for the second game running, was a rock at left back - Graham Hansen really didn’t get a sniff. She was replaced by Alex Greenwood on 56 minutes as Wiegman made a triple substitution, White making way for Alissa Russo and Ella Toone replacing Kirby.

Norway were determined to save themselves from any further embarrassment, dropping deep and doubling up on the England wingers who had had such freedom in the first half.

As the Mexican waves rippled through the stands - for once a justified means of keeping the party atmosphere going - England probed for space in the find third. Eventually the seventh came, Bronze delivering a quality ball to the back post for Russo, who showed strength to nod home.

England v Norway: Group A - UEFA Women’s EURO 2022 Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images

Bronze delivered once again moments later, but Toone’s header lacked the power to add the eighth, then cut inside to provide the Man United youngster with a chance from 20 yards which was fielded by the keeper.

Hemp was withdrawn for her Man City clubmate Chloe Kelly in the 70th minute, as England demonstrated their immense strength in depth. The Lionesses didn’t let up, they kept pressing, kept possession brilliantly,

Alex Greenwood drove a shot against the bar from just outside the left of the box, the ball rebounded out to Bronze struck a shot directly at Pettersen.

Sunderland lass Jill Scott came on with ten minutes remaining to add another dimension to our play, appearing in her tenth major tournament. Moments later, Mead completed her hattrick to make it 8-0 - number 18 for Wiegman - reacting first as the keeper could only parry Keira Walsh’s well-hit shot.

Scott did have one opportunity to add to the scoreline, but her shot from inside the box was a couple of yards wide of the right hand post.

Maanum had a long-range attempt that sailed over the bar with six minutes left on the clock, but England had restricted the eighth-ranked team in the world to no attempts on target. Hegerberg may as well have not been on the pitch. We had seen the greatest night in English women’s football in the modern era - so far at least.

England v Norway: Group A - UEFA Women’s EURO 2022 Photo by Lynne Cameron - The FA/The FA via Getty Images

Reflections

What an end to a sweltering day. A record-breaking scoreline in any UEFA European Championship.

England have arrived. The speed and quality of their play will be difficult for any other side to rival. They look super fit, super confident, and super able. We’ve seen all 16 nations at least once now, and no team has even hinted at the kind of performance that Wiegman’s showed.

Beth Mead, the lass from North Yorkshire whose goals took Sunderland all the way to the top of the WSL, is now a real global star. She has everything - pace, determination, technique, guile, vision, a beautiful cross, and a deadly finish. As Lasses fans, we all knew she was capable of this - in Eidevall and Wiegman she has found two managers who trust her ability and have given her license to demonstrate it for club and country.

She was almost lost for words when interviewed on the BBC after the match. She’s made us all very proud.

This could be the game that catapults the Lionesses into the centre of the football world’s attention. It will live long in the memory, no doubt. If England do go on to lift the trophy at Wembley on 31st July, it will be this game that gives them the belief that they could do it.

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