England 3-0 Belgium: The Lionesses win their first pre-Euro 2022 friendly as Sarina Wiegman’s side begin their final preparation for next month’s home tournament
- England’s first warm-up game ahead of July’s home Euro championship
- Squad was announced on Wednesday with a number of notable omission
- Goals from Chloe Kelly, Rachel Daly and an own goal ensure Lionesses win
There is no ostensible sign that Sarina Wiegman goes in for gestures.
No arms around anyone else when the national anthem plays. No sentimental place for Steph Houghton in her England squad. A cool, steely scrutiny through her gold-rimmed spectacles, from the edge of the dug-out.
On the evidence of her team’s first European Championsips warm-up match, this translates into a far more clear-minded, unencumbered England team than the one which prepared for the World Cup, this time three years ago. The squad hadn’t even been picked when the team lost poorly to Canada at Swindon and there was a panic in the way they played.
The Lionesses got their final preparations off to a resounding start with a win at Molineux
Sarina Wiegman does not seem the type for sentimental gestures in her management
The squad places have already been settled this time and the strong side selected against a terribly poor Belgium simply found a way to get the ball into the possession of their most creative players.
The first half finishing left much to be desired given the way that Lucy Bronze, the prime supplier down England’s right, was given the freedom of Wolverhampton to run onto space and select any recipient. Georgia Stranway’s somehow managed to find none of the curl she intended on a training ground opportunity in the Belgian box. Ellen White swished a boot into fresh air when gifted one of two chances. But the goals will come in the weeks ahead if England continue to create like this.
Lauren Hemp revealed why she could be a household name before the summer is out with her breezy confidence in possession and outstanding vision. A ten-yard run preceded a ball stabbed with her left outstep to White, whose first time shot was palmed away. A clipped ball over Laura Deloose, loosely masquerading as her marker, preceded another shot that was saved.
Hemp and Beth Mead on the opposite flank more than make up for creative component that Fran Kirby, no longer a totemic presence in the England starting team, has brought in past.
Lucy Bronze was given the freedom of Wolverhampton down the right-hand side for England
It does not look like Houghton will be overly missed either, given how Millie Bright and Lotte Wubben-Moy look wholly organised. Bright provides the diagonal cross-field balls that were a Houghton hallmark.
It was article of faith for Wiegman’s predecessor Phil Neville that England would play out from the back, creating some moments of grave peril against better opponents. That conformed to the fabled ‘England DNA’, though this team just play the moment, whether it requires something long or short.
Wiegman made three changes at half time, with Frank Kirby and Beth England later arriving in place of Mead and White just beyond the hour mark. It was Manchester City’s Kelly, on after the interval, who broke the deadlock, driving into the box on her right foot and despatched a shot with her left that was deflected in off Amber Tysiak, a Dutch substitute.
Manchester City’s Chloe Kelly broke the deadlock for England after coming on after the break
Rachel Daly added England’s deserved second merely four minutes after Kelly’s opener
Rachel Daly, another of the second half additions, scored the second, volleying a ball which ricocheted into her path after a corner. Captain Leah Williamson side-footed a third in off the bar from a weak clearance, before a 9,598 crowd.
It was reward for the patience England had showed as the goals evaded them. More of that may be needed. Their opening game opponents, Austria, are ranked four places lower than Belgium and are also expected to defend deep.
There’s no denying the scrutiny that lies ahead. ‘Grip the Nation’ demanded one of the advertising hoardings which beamed out here. But the Dutch coach – grieving her own sister, whose death was marked by the black armbands her players wore – seems like a good leader to have under intensity like that.
She broke into a smile when the third goal went in. ‘I want a recognisable playing shape and a fighting spirit,’ she said. Nothing more complicated than that.