England book 2023 Women’s World Cup spot vs. Austria but there is more to come from Lionesses

WIENER NEUSTADT, Austria – A goal in each half in Austria was more than enough for England as the newly crowned European champions returned to the competition with a 2-0 win and secured their place at the 2023 World Cup with a game remaining in their qualification group.

England’s record under Sarina Wiegman was, in a word, breathless. Or rather: irresistible. When the former Netherlands boss was hired by the FA after the conclusion of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics – to officially take up the job in September 2021 – even she could not hope for the unbridled success she and the team had.

Every time England have been on the pitch over the past 12 months the bubble has threatened to burst and the team would eventually be beaten for 90 minutes, but their unbeaten streak continued. Since the first ball fired in qualifying against North Macedonia last September, the Wiegman era has known just one win.

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The important caveat that over the course of those 21 games they’ve largely played against teams that rank on the outer fringes of FIFA, with only a handful of elite opponents, stands out. Some of those games told a story, like a friendly against a COVID-plagued German team at the Arnold Clark Cup earlier in the year, but others were routine and routine: just a long list of goalscorers and a reminder of their opposition’s amateur status. When you score 20 goals against Latvia as a team you have to wonder how much you can get from those 90 minutes, but it all seems to have been a step towards the European success that the Lionesses celebrated at home over July.

Despite the one-sided nature of many clashes, these great victories have given England an air of invincibility. It’s a team that can have as much luck in their ranks as incredible investments from the FA, who have done everything they can to fill a meager trophy cabinet save for a Cyprus Cup and a SheBelieves Cup, two friendly tournaments contested before Easter.

In Wiener Neustadt, a sleepy southern suburb of Vienna, England continued to display the polish that has become synonymous with the Wiegman era. With or without the ball, players were free to roam and always seemed to have at least one backup white jersey as the ball traveled from one end of the field to the other.

An early goal from Alessia Russo, scored with some luck when the ball found its way to the Manchester United attacker via a deflection by teammate Georgia Stanway, allowed England to relax further. Manuela Zinsberger’s net ruffled in the seventh minute after Russo swept the ball flat with his back to goal.

A small nation in women’s football, Austria has improved by leaps and bounds over the past six years and their most recent record has been one most sides could be proud of, with England (twice), Germany and Denmark suffering their only defeats of their current game series. But of course England was a thorn in their side again. The visitors, still in full swing after a dreamy summer, countered with ease and showed their athleticism to chase every ball and win race after race.

It was the same team that had the heady mix of ability, fitness and undeniable talent as they weathered a scare early in the second half when Julia Hickelsberger-Fuller chased Mary Earps’ erratic release and turned her towards goal. In the end, the ball trickled wide and almost scratched a layer of paint off the post on its way. It was the kind of game that would have resulted in a goal had Austria played a team other than England, but of course they played England.

When Nikita Parris put a ball into the net seven minutes after kick-off, there was no turning back for Austria and hopes of automatic World Cup qualification vanished with the defeat.

As Wiegman had said in her pre-game press conference the day before the group decision, “If you’re happy with what you’re doing, you’ve lost.” However, they are clearly showing no signs of complacency after the Euro triumph that ended so many years of English pain. It would be easy for their charges to look down on the rest of Europe from the throne they ascended at the end of July, but there is a clear understanding that the work is far from over ahead of next summer’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand .

There’s a feeling that we still haven’t seen the best of this England team, that there are more gears the team could go through with the accelerator not fully down yet, but as they demonstrated against Austria, they do everything necessary. It might read like they’re happy to rest on their laurels, but it gives a sense that there’s always more in the tank and that they’re being smart with their energy.

England will need to gain more ground if they want to have another fantastic summer (well, Australian winter) next year and close the gap at the best in the world, but we’re still awaiting that team’s promising additional kit something special.

History threatens to repeat itself for Wiegman, whose first game since winning Euro 2017 with the Netherlands was a 2-0 away win over Austria. The reminder that their 2017 Netherlands team lost the 2019 World Cup final to the United States comes at a good time as the world No. 1 will play England at Wembley in October.

https://www.espn.com/soccer/blog-the-match/story/4736324/england-book-2023-womens-world-cup-spot-vs-austria-but-there-is-more-to-come-from-lionesses England book 2023 Women’s World Cup spot vs. Austria but there is more to come from Lionesses

Emma Bowman

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