Holly Wright and Johnathan Stack reflect on last night’s international at the Amex Stadium. They consider what went right, what went wrong, and developmental points for Sarina Wiegman’s European Champions (12/10/22).
Above: Beth Mead battling away for England last night against Czech Republic. Photo: Lionesses.
James And Bronze The Headline Makers As Czechs Frustrate Lionesses
by Holly Wright
A fatigued and below-par England were held to a goalless draw by an organized Czech Republic side in Brighton on Tuesday night in a game that saw Lucy Bronze make her 100th international appearance for the Lionesses.
England returned to the Amex Stadium where records were smashed during their winning European campaign both in the group stages and the quarter-final of the tournament, but this was definitely a more low-key affair against a stubborn Czech Republic side who despite having players at top clubs, have never qualified for a major tournament.
The game was dedicated to Let Girls Play, the FA’s campaign for every girl to have equal access to football in their school and community on its 10th anniversary. The Lionesses have been huge ambassadors for this movement more than ever since the success at the European championships as role models for girls to have their voices heard and be given equal opportunities.
Former international Karel Rada, the Czech Republic head coach made four changes to the team that began the 3-3 draw at home to Hungary on Friday with Slavia Prague’s Tereza Szewieczková, and Sevilla’s Andrea Stasková coming into the squad with the latter netting all three goals in that game and Szewieczková previously scoring against England when the clubs last met in November 2019.
England manager Sarina Weigman looked to extend their 15-game winning streak but saw it as a perfect opportunity to explore possible options and assess where the squad is at as the World Cup looms closer. Looking at a different type of way of getting the ball in front of goal as a result of the retirement of Ellen White and no exact carbon copy of her, Beth Mead, Georgia Stanway, and Rachel Daly were replaced in the starting lineup by Lauren James, Demi Stokes, and Ella Toone. Hemp was given the nod in the central forward role, however, it never really clicked.
Poor decision making
England have been under a lot of criticism for their lack of cutting edge in the final third against top international teams as well as their shortage of communication at the back when under pressure and this was evident throughout.
Lauren James who was making her senior debut had the first chance of the game in the opening few minutes when a Chloe Kelly charging run down the wing was cleared for a corner as she tried to find Hemp in the box. The resulting set piece found the talented Chelsea forward at the back post with her smashing the ball against the crossbar.
James’s link-up play was outstanding picking out Hemp but was not ruthless enough in front of goal and hit her shot straight at the impressive Lukásová in the Czech Republic goal.
England needed to be more selfish on the edge of the box as they struggled to stretch the visiting side although managed to create the two best chances of the first half when James combined with Bronze on the left wing who put a lofted ball into the box only for Kelly to glance wide.
Chance after chance came for the Lionesses but a lack of creativity in the final third led to few problems for the Czech defence.
England player of the year Beth Mead was brought on at halftime to try and change things, and she was found by Bronze on the right wing. Her cross was met by the head of Hemp just as the case continued to be her attempt was off target and landed on the roof of the net.
Hemp was involved in most things going forward this time probably England’s best chance of breaking the deadlock if it wasn’t for the heroics of the Czech defence. James played a ball over the top for her to run onto down the left with her ball fizzed into the six-yard box bouncing back of the post. Fran Kirby and Stokes were ready to pounce on the rebound, but both saw their efforts frustratingly blocked.
Esme Morgan and Ebony Salmon were introduced by Wiegman as England kept seeing opportunities squandered as a Mexican wave and Sweet Caroline echoed around the stadium trying to spur the European champions on.
Morgan broke her leg after being named in Wiegman’s first-ever squad against North Macedonia but the 21-year-old looked physically in great shape. Salmon who plays her football for Houston Dash in America, earned her second cap and instantly linked up with Fran Kirby whose wonderful looping shot was expertly tipped over the crossbar by Lukásová. Next was Mead to try her luck but her curling effort went just past the post. Neither Morgan nor Salmon had made an appearance in any of Sarina Wiegman’s games in charge.
“We are absolutely disappointed because we could have won,” Wiegman said as she reflected on the performance in her post-match press conference.
“We knew that the Czech Republic were going to be a tough opponent. Very physical, direct, and good in small spaces. We expected them to drop a little deeper and they did exactly that, but we have to do better.”
Technically James is considered one of the best raw talents since Kelly Smith. On her full debut she was a constant threat going forward and definitely gave Wiegman something to think about with her exceptional balance and pace as well as her ability to use both feet. James was very effective in front of goal, trying to draw defenders in to create space for Hemp to run in behind the Czech Republic defence.
Despite her first touch of the ball rolling off her foot going out for an opposition throw in she wasn’t fazed by this mistake and showed exactly what she is capable of in one on one situations gliding past players on the wing like its effortless to the Chelsea attacker.
Replaced by Salmon on 70 minutes she did her push for a place in Wiegman’s World Cup squad no harm at all.
Bronze joins centurion club
The Barcelona fullback earned her 100th cap and outlined what an important piece she still is of the Lionesses squad. Nine years ago, she made her England debut against Japan and felt honoured to join the 100 club along with Lionesses legends such as Farah Williams, Jill Scott, Karen Carney, and Kelly Smith.
“I always thought, wow that’s an amazing achievement. Never in a million years did I think I’d put my name alongside those kinds of players on the list,” said the former Manchester City star.
Bronze earlier revealed this week that at 20 years old as a result of four severe knee injuries as a teenager, she was told to expect her playing career to last no longer than seven years, yet here she is 10 years later still performing at the top of her ability.
A former England Player of the year and champions league winner with Olympique Lyonnais has even mentioned about emulating Brazil legend Formiga who continued to play until the outrageous age of 43.
“People keep asking me what’s next? Can I catch up with Jill Scott who has 161 caps or Fara Williams who has 172 caps, but I think they’re miles off. I just want to keep playing for England as long as possible. I feel good in this team and I’m playing well. A hundred more? Maybe that’s too much, but I just keep going.”
Czech Republic frustrate Lionesses
England keeper Mary Earps was called into action a couple of times as their pace on the counterattack caused the Lionesses a few problems. Czech Republic were proving to be very durable at the back but looked promising when they advanced into the attacking third.
The impressive Stasková was given too much space to drive forward into without being challenged however a lack of composure on the ball meant she scuffed her shot straight at the England keeper.
Although they had the players to hurt England no doubt what was in the back of the mind was the threat of the European champions as they continued to get everybody behind the ball.
Stasková remained an outlet combing with the dangerous Chelsea midfielder Svitková without really troubling or creating anything for Earps to worry about.
The only damper on the Czech performance came on the 70th minute when defender Slajsová left the pitch on a stretcher with her ankle heavily strapped up after rolling the joint underneath her whilst trying to thwart the run of Hemp.
There was still time to create a few agonizing moments of their own in a chaotic end to the game but fully deserved their draw and the celebrations that followed at full-time.
The result meant that England kept another clean sheet and extended their unbeaten run to 24 games despite putting an end to their 15-game winning streak which stemmed back to a 0-0 draw against Spain in the Arnold Cup back in February whilst Czech Republic remain undefeated in their last four games.
“We got a couple of chances hitting the post twice once in the first half and again in the second. We had three opportunities to score and didn’t,” Wiegman expressed.
The England manager was full of praise for the way Czech Republic set up and stating that the Lionesses are not always going to have it their own way. “They stayed in the game and counter-attacked very dangerously a couple of times, so for us was a very good learning curve.”
“We can expect that in the future sometimes we will have opponents like this who are very tight and very physical. They drop a little deeper which is really hard to break down and we have to find ways to do that to.”
What’s next for the Lionesses?
England’s will head to Murcia in November for two international friendlies in five days as they face Japan on Friday 11th November and Norway who will hope it’s not a repeat of the 8-0 thrashing suffered at the European championships on Tuesday 15th November with kick-off times yet to be confirmed.
Frustrated But Still Unbeaten
by Johnathan Stack
On a night that promised so much, in a stadium where three months previous brought a monumental night in England’s path to Euros’ glory, the Lionesses were unable to get past the Czech Republic in Brighton.
The game finished 0-0 on a night when Barcelona defender Lucy Bronze made her 100th appearance in what was from an England perspective disappointing as they couldn’t break the deadlock against a stubborn Czech side.
In my opinion, the Czech Republic did an amazing job of not only conceding but also frustrating the European Champions on home soil. This was an excellent result for the team ranked 28th in the world. They defended in numbers, closed down quickly, and got in good attacking positions on occasions giving Mary Earps some work to do.
This is a match you would have expected England to win especially with the way they have been performing during the Sarina Wiegman era, but you have to give credit to Slavia Prague shot-stopper Olivie Lukásová who pulled off a string of great saves. England had chances Lauren James hit the post on her full senior debut, Chloe Kelly headed wide, Lauren Hemp hit the post in the second half and Fran Kirby couldn’t follow up.
While England will be disappointed in last night’s draw, I don’t think there is reason to panic, there has been nothing but positives from this England team who have been playing incredibly well, the Lionesses made a statement on Friday by beating the World Champions in the spectacle at Wembley.
A World Cup qualifying campaign that ended with a 100% record and a goal difference of +80, crowned European Champions on home soil, and now 24 games unbeaten. Add this to the news that Sarina Wiegman is now in talks over a new contract with the FA and next year’s World Cup looks to be huge for the Lionesses contender.
I feel that England are the team to beat and not just in Europe. I have full confidence that this Sarina Wiegman team will do better than fourth at next year’s World Cup unlike four years ago in the Phillip Neville era where post-2019 World Cup, England had a string of bad performances, touch wood those days are gone.
Teams: ENGLAND (4-2-3-1): Earps, Bronze, Bright, Greenwood, Stokes, Walsh, Kirby, James, Kelly, Toone, Hemp. Substitutes: Morgan, Roebuck, Zelem, Wubben-Moy, Carter, Parris, Park, Daly, MacIver, Mead, Salmon.
CZECH REPUBLIC (4-2-3-1): Lukásová, Sonntágová, Bertholdová, Necidová, Slajsová, Cahynová, Dubcová, Svitková, Krejciríková, Szewieczková, Stasková. Substitutes: Dlasková, Khýrová, Martínková, Veselá, Jelínková, Cvrcková, Stárová, Fuchsová, Dubcová, Mrázová, Cerná, Radová.