Dominant England retain Arnold Clark Cup

England 6-1 Belgium

by Johnathan Stack at Ashton Gate for Impetus (23/2/23).

Above: England lift the Arnold Clark at Bristol City FC last night after retaining the trophy they won last year. Photo: Lionesses.

The Lionesses put out a message last night ahead of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup as they comprehensively defeated Belgium to retain the Arnold Clark Cup.

It was an almost packed house at Ashton Gate Stadium in Bristol, for the finale as England took on Belgium in a winner takes all decider for the trophy.

After five matches and three doubleheaders at different venues, it all came down to this the sixth and final game of the tournament.

So far so good for both teams as they have had perfect records in the Arnold Clark Cup with England beating Korea Republic 4-0 on matchday one in Milton Keynes and beating Italy 2-1 in Coventry, whereas Belgium has sat on level points with England having beat Italy and Korea Republic 2-1 in both the previous two matches.

England head coach Sarina Wiegman named a full-strength team for this game, which could well prove to be close to her starting eleven for the opening World Cup group game against Haiti.

The Lionesses hit the ground running early on and were all over Belgium from the get-go, with Georgia Stanway going wide and Lauren James firing just over in the opening ten minutes of the game.

Above: There was plenty to celebrate for England last night. Photo Lionesses.

The deadlock was broken in the 12th minute as James received the ball on the right and produced a dazzling run down the wing sending a deflected cross into the box with Chloe Kelly in the right place at the right time to bundle the ball into the back of the net.

Millie Bright nearly went close to doubling the lead with a header from an Alex Greenwood corner as the Lionesses kept up the relentless pressure from the start. Bright’s Chelsea teammate James went close for a second time as she was found on the edge of the area as she got the ball out of her feet, she fired just over again.

England did double the lead just before half-time as skipper Leah Williamson headed home from Lucy Bronze’s cross on the left to make the scoreline reflect the hosts’ domination that bit more.

At the start of the second half, it was more of the same as Ella Toone fired just over minutes after the restart, but then Kelly bagged her second of the game as Toone had a shot that was saved by Belgian keeper Nicky Evrard but spilled into the path of the Manchester City attacker who pounced onto the rebound and stuck it into an empty net.

The Lionesses’ bombardment continue as Alessia Russo almost made it 4-0, but was denied by Evrard sprawling at her near post to make a save.

Kelly nearly had a hat trick as she bamboozled the Belgian defence with a mazy run down the right, she then cut inside and tried to curl it into the top corner of the goal, but it went over the bar.

It was non-stop pressure, as England had Belgium penned into their half as Lucy Bronze’s cross picked out Russo with a great cross but unfortunately her gentle header went just wide.

Above: England dominated the Arnold Clark Cup silverware presentation as Chloe Kelly (left) won the tournament’s golden boot, and Lauren James won the player of the tournament trophy. Photo: Lionesses.

England had two further real chances. First through Kelly was found out on the wing and her cross-come shot grazed the top of the crossbar. Then, Stanway broke through as part of a four-on-two, but decided to go alone, and her deflected shot nearly found a way past Evrard couldn’t quite make the back of the net.

Finally, the fourth goal came as Julie Biesmans put the ball into her own net, as she tried to deal with Stanway’s cross. There was reward for Lucy Bronze as Lauren Hemp fed Rachel Daly who them knocked it down into the path of the Lionesses centurion to fire home for 5-0.

Belgium grabbed a superb consolation goal when substitute Elena Dhont picked the ball on the right, cut in on the edge of the box, and whipped a shot into the far top corner of Mary Earps’ goal.

England were not done though as captain Leah Williamson scored her second goal of the night, side footing the ball into an almost empty net as Stanway’s initial shot was blocked and with Evrard already in motion, all the Lionesses captain had to do was aim her shot into the unguarded half of the goal to make it six.

England have looked very strong over these three games. Lauren James was rightly named player of the tournament. Head coach Sarina Wiegman did get to experiment in these three matches ahead of the World Cup with Rachel Daly staking a claim to go head-to-head with Alessia Russo for the number nine role. Another important fact ahead of the summer is the Lionesses are now 29 games unbeaten with 25 wins and four draws since the Dutchwoman’s first game back in September 2021.

England have an array of talent in multiple positions on the pitch, there is obviously going to be a real selection headache for Wiegman ahead of the World Cup. The Lionesses boss spoke to the media about this selection dilemma saying: “I don’t have to make the decisions now. In some positions, pretty much if those players stay performing as they do, the chance of being picked for the first XI is very high.

“With some positions, I really don’t know yet and I don’t have to know. I have to see them over the next month at their club and then we come back in camp again. There’s a lot of competition going on. It’s pretty hard for us to make decisions. I’m not surprised, but it’s just confirmed that the competition is going on.”

There are five months until the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. Preparations continue for the Lionesses in April as they have the Finalissima at Wembley on 6th April against Brazil followed by taking on World Cup joint hosts the Matildas’, who have won their last seven matches in a row at Brentford FC on 11th April.

Teams: ENGLAND: Earps, Bronze, Greenwood, Walsh, Bright, Williamson, Kelly, Stanway, Russo, Toone, James. Substitutes: Roebuck, MacIver, Hemp, Daly, Park, Carter, Salmon, Zelem, Charles, Robinson, Wubben-Moy, Le Tissier, Nobbs, Coombs.

Scorers: Kelly 12’, 50’. Williamson 43’, 90+3. Biesmans (OG) 78’, Bronze 89′.

BELGIUM: Evrard, Wijnants, De Caigny, Wullaert (c), Vanhaevermaet, Cayman, Vangheluwe, Detruyer, Janssens, Biesmans, Missipo. Substitutes: Lemy, Bastiaen, Philtjens, Van Kerkhoven, Colson, Eurlings, Dhont, Deloose, Merrsman, Fon, Ampoorter.

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