The past week or so has seen a large number of international matches, with the conclusion of the Euro 2022 group qualifiers, the Lionesses‘ return to action after a year and several friendlies. Our team of writers round-up all the action.
Euro 2021 Qualifiers Round-Up by Ben Gilby:
Group A concluded on 23rd February when Estonia hosted Slovenia in Tallinn. The hosts, who had lost every game and only scored a single goal kept their visitors to just two goals at half-time with Dominika Conc and Mateja Zver on target. However, a four goal haul in nine second half minutes helped the visitors to complete a 9-0 romp. Zver added a second before further goals from Lara Prasnikar (2 including one penalty), Zara Vindisar Ana Milovic, Lara Klopcic ensured the Slovenes finished third in the group.
Group B was completed on 24th February when Italy completely Israel 12-0 in Florence to ensure they qualify automatically as one of the best group runners-up. The Italians scored four times in the first nineteen minutes. They led 7-0 at half-time and in all, there were nine different goal scorers, including one own goal from Shani David. Valentina Giacinti (2), Barbara Bonasea (2), Daniela Sabatino (2), Cristiana Girelli, Cecilia Salvai, Martina Rosucci (penalty), Arianna Caruso and Manuela Giugliano completed the rout.
|Bosnia & Herzegovina||10||6||0||4||19||17||18||+ 2|
It has been announced that the remaining games in Group C will now not be played. This will have no impact on the overall outcome of the group as everything had been decided. The final table is:
|Faroe Islands||7||0||0||7||1||42||0||– 41|
In Group D, Spain began their run of two games to decide their destiny in the qualification campaign. Needing just three points from this period, they clinched their place in the finals in England in some style with a comprehensive 13-0 win in Azerbaijan on 18th February. Jennifer Hermoso hit five goals with Esther González Rodríguez adding four more. Mariona Caldentey, Eva Navarro and Nerea Eizagirre added the others. The remaining games in the group were played on 23rd February. Spain continued their excellent end to the qualifying campaign with a straightforward 3-0 win over Poland in Madrid. Esther González Rodríguez scored twice with Mapi Leon getting the other. Azerbaijan ended the group on a high by recording their only win in the qualifying campaign. They beat Moldova 1-0 in Baku thanks to Aysun Aliyeva’s strike – only her country’s second goal in the group.
|Czech Republic||8||5||2||1||24||9||16||+ 13|
The drama at the top of Group E took an incredible deciding twist on 19th February when Finland won the battle of the top two with Portugal in Helsinki thanks to a goal three minutes into injury time at the end of the match. Linda Sällström‘s rocket from outside of the box ensured that regardless of the outcome of the two nation’s final match, it will be the Finns who qualify for the finals in England. Scotland ended their miserable run of form with a 10-0 win in Cyprus. The Scots, led by interim head coach Stuart McLaren scored five goals in a twenty-four minute spell in the first half to seal the victory. Erin Cuthbert, Martha Thomas and Jane Ross each scored twice (one penalty for Ross) with Caroline Weir, Kirsty Hanson, Lizzie Arnot and Claire Emslie adding the others. However, Scotland ended their campaign with another defeat. Portugal claimed a 2-0 win in a game played in Larnaca on Cyprus. Stuart McLaren believed his team completely dominated the Portuguese side, but still slipped to a disappointing loss. Ana Capeta’s 27th minute strike was followed by a penalty by Fatima Pinto two minutes in to stoppage time at the end of the game sealed the result. Elsewhere in the same city, Cyprus completed their campaign winless and goalless after a 5-0 loss to group winners Finland. Emma Koivisto, Linda Sällström, Adelina Engman, Kaisa Collin and Juliette Kemppi were on target.
Group F has already been concluded and the final table is as follows:
Group G ended before Christmas, with the final table looking like this:
|North Macedonia||8||2||0||6||8||39||6||– 31|
Group H was concluded on 23rd February with Romania ensuring a third place finish after a 1-0 win in Croatia. Mihaela Cioacu’s strike after 53 minutes was the difference.
Group I was all wrapped up in December, with the final table as follows:
|Republic of Ireland||8||4||1||3||11||10||13||+ 1|
Already qualified automatically as group winners to join hosts England are Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, France, Belgium and Germany. Italy, Iceland and Austria are also making their travel plans for England after being guaranteed one of the three automatic spots for the best group runners-up.
In terms of the play-offs, Northern Ireland, Russia, Ukraine, Switzerland, Portugal and Czech Republic await the draw to discover who will face off to decide the final three places in the competition.
Women’s International Friendly News:
England played their first friendly against another nation in almost a year when they took on Northern Ireland at the St. George’s Park Training Centre on 23rd February. In Hege Riise’s first game as interim head coach, the Lionesses faced a Northern Irish side missing a number of regulars due to work commitments and injuries. The visitors were not able to muster a single shot on goal and if it wasn’t for Becky Flaherty in goal, the score line could have been a whole lot worse. Bure Valley YFC’s U12s player Daisy reports:
One team ranked sixth in the world; the other ranked 49th, England had big expectations to live up to in the friendly and certainly didn’t disappoint. They showed power and experience to the younger side, some of whom looked up to the England players as their heroes. And despite the extreme windy weather, they didn’t fail to let the world know that they were the same team who made it to the 2018 World Cup semi-finals.
This match was a very important one for the international hero Jill Scott, who, to celebrate her 150th cap for England (an amount which Jill is only the second ever female player to reach) was able to take the title from Steph Houghton for one day and sport the colourful captain’s armband in acknowledgement and support of LGBT.
England were up and running from the whistle, not giving Northern Ireland a chance to ease into the game and spending the first 10 minutes without letting their green opposition make it out of their own half. This paid off with a 17th minute goal from Ellen White – picked up from a defensive mistake and slid into the bottom right corner. 5 minutes later and White had her second, this one from a first-time cross from Lucy Bronze with an expertly executed header.
Despite these early difficulties, Northern Ireland fought back and had some decent chances with long balls from defence to forwards and some exciting breaks down the left wing. However, England’s organised defence and speed in getting back prevented Ellie Roebuck from having to make any saves in the first 25 minutes.
A tap-in from Lucy Bronze gave England a 3-0 advantage in the 28th minute and showed they were not planning on slowing down. Unfortunately, Nikita Parris could not participate in the match due to Covid restrictions, but the forward three seemed as strong as ever; working together in a triangle high in the northern Ireland half to press for mistakes.
The first minute back after half time and Ellen White came centimetres away from a hat trick, which two minutes later she succeeded in with a powerful shot in the 6-yard box to lift the ball into the roof of the net. But, it seemed as though Northern Ireland wouldn’t be fazed by anything! Doing much better than their first half performance; playing a high press on England and managing to use their breaks to end in some thrilling shots in the England goal direction.
An offside decision deprived Ellen White of her fourth goal, but her attacking triangle did not let up; seeming almost to move as one and always regaining formation after chances. The Lionesses continued to dominate possession all the way to the 66th minute, in which another brilliant assist from Bronze resulted in a tap-in goal for Rachel Daly.
A five goal lead, and England still wouldn’t let up, with more near-goal scenarios including a skim of the crossbar from Chloe Kelly. And when Northern Ireland conceded a penalty in the 73rd minute, it gave Ella Toone the chance to give England their sixth and final goal, which she did with a calm and composed shot into the bottom left corner.
6-0 down with 4 minutes of extra time and Northern Ireland respectively still threw everything they had into the game and did pressurise their opposition, but when the final whistle blew England were finally able to enjoy their 6-0 win. And though the whites were far the better team, Northern Ireland still had many positives to take from the game such as their respect, resilience and their will to keep going no matter what the score line.
Other Friendlies – by Ben Gilby
In Malta, Sweden defeated fellow European Championship qualifiers Austria 6-1. Linda Sembrant gave the Swedes the lead with a header from a set piece. Virginia Kirschberger levelled shortly after from point blank range before Sweden took over. A run down the right and shot across the goalkeeper saw Fridolina Rolfö give Sweden the lead. A backward header from Lina Hurtig from a corner made it 3-1. It was 4-1 when Rolfö played a clever inside pass to Filippa Angeldahl to shoot into the net. Rolfö made it five when she tapped home a low cross before Sofia Jakobsson completed the rout with a shot across the face of the keeper.
In the iconic Azteca Stadium, Mexico comfortably saw off Costa Rica 3-1. Rebeca Bernal and Katty Martinez put the hosts ahead before the break. Stephany Mayor increased the lead with Fabiola Villalobos pulling one back for Costa Rica with seven minutes left. Three days later, the two sides faced off again, with the outcome a 0-0 draw.
23rd February saw Sweden complete their two game spell on Malta with a 3-0 win over the hosts. Kosovare Aslani, Nathalie Björn and an own goal from Olivia Schough completed the win.
France met Switzerland twice in a matter of days in Metz. Jean-Pierre Thiesset reports: For their first encounter on 20th February, Corinne Diacre, the France coach, tried several new things. A 3-4-3 or 5-2-3 formation depending on whether the team was attacking or defending, with several young players in the team. I have to say that due to the number of players unavailable, the coach was left with reduced choices. Eugénie Le Sommer was out due to Covid. Griedge Mbock, Amandine Henry, Marie-Antoinette Katoto and Valérie Gauvin due to injury. It was not a great game, but France won 2-0 by playing a serious game. Goals were score by Wendie Renard (12) following a free kick of Amel Majri and Perle Moroni (81), which just came in, on a cross from Eve Périsset, who came on as a substitute five minutes.
The second game, which took place on 23rd February, was back to a more classical 4-4-2 formation with several young players, but it was still not a very exciting game. France won 2-0 again with two goals from central defender Wendie Renard. This is not comforting for the team, which seems not to be able to score in the game without free kicks and penalty and with one of its defenders on target. Goals were scored by Wendie Renard (77) following a free kick from Eve Perisset and (90) thanks to a penalty.
Three Nations One Goal Cup:
Netherlands gained an extremely impressive 6-1 win away to the rapidly improving Belgium side on 18th February. The Dutch ran away with the game in the final half-hour – a period in which they scored four times. Vivianne Miedema and Jill Roord had given the visitors a 2-0 lead before Marie Minneart got one back for the Red Flames. Just two minutes later, the Dutch goal glut began as Stefanie van der Gragt, Lieke Martens, Danielle van der Donk and Dominique Janssen completed the rout.
On 21st February, Germany completed a 2-0 win over Belgium thanks to goals from Svenja Huth (2 mins) and Lea Schuller (55). The Germans were dominant with 22 shots on goal and 65% possession.
The outcome of the tournament was decided on 24th February when Netherlands took on Germany. The Dutch won the competition thanks to a very impressive 2-1 victory – the Germans’ first loss since the 2019 World Cup Quarter-Final. The Dutch were on the front foot from the start and Jill Roord sent a shot against the bar with Lieke Martens blazing the follow up way over. They had better luck just after the quarter of an hour mark when Vivianne Miedema played in Jackie Groenen to score. It was all square at the break when Svenja Huth’s cross was dispatched into the net by Laura Freigang. Just after the hour mark came the deciding move when Daniëlle van de Donk headed home.
SheBelieves Cup by Ben Gilby:
This year’s competition was solely held at the Exploria Stadium in Orlando, Florida and involved USA, Canada, Brazil and Argentina.
In the first round of matches, Brazil overcame Argentina 4-1. Marta’s penalty gave them the lead on the half-hour mark with Debinha doubling their advantage just after half-time. Adriana’s third sealed the result which made Mariana Larroquette’s strike for Argentina academic on the hour mark. A fourth was added for Brazil by Geyse with six minutes left. The USA’s clash with Canada was far closer and the Canadians gave the host nation a number of extremely worrying moments. The only goal came with eleven minutes left when the Canadians failed to clear a free kick and Manchester City’s Rose Lavelle fired home.
USA placed one hand on the trophy after a 2-0 win over Brazil on 21st February. Christen Press’ early goal after 11 minutes gave the World Champions a great start, but Brazil were never fully out of the equation until Megan Rapinoe added a second with two minutes to go. Canada left it even later to gain victory over Argentina. Despite the Canadians having seventeen shots on goal and making almost twice the number of passes, it wasn’t until two minutes into stoppage time when Sarah Stratigakis broke Argentine hearts with the winning goal.
Brazil ended the competition on a massive high with a superb 2-0 win over Canada – a result that ensured they clinched second place in the final table. With a quarter of an hour played, Debinha was played through and found Adriana. Her effort beat Stephanie Labbé in the Canada goal but cannoned back off the post to Debinha who followed up to score. Six minutes before the break, the South Americans doubled their lead after Gabby Carle failed to clear twice and Julia stole the ball from the Canadian and smashed the second in. Chelsea’s Jessie Fleming was then nutmegged by Tamires who linked with Debinha and then Adriana who was only denied by a great save by Labbé. Canada had the best of the second half but simply could not score. USA wrapped up their tournament victory by sweeping aside Argentina 6-0. Megan Rapinoe scored twice in just ten minutes with Carli Lloyd and Kristie Mewis making it 4-0 at the break. It took until the final six minutes for the Americans to add to their tally as Alex Morgan and Kristen Press completed the rout.
|United States of America||3||3||0||0||9||0||9||+ 9|