SOUTHAMPTON, England – After beating Norway 8-0, it was always interesting to see what Sarina Wiegman did with England in their final group stage game against bottom-placed Northern Ireland. Wiegman is usually consistent with her starting XI, but the question was whether, with a place in the quarter-finals already booked, she would rest certain players to give more minutes to others in the squad.
Despite a COVID-19 diagnosis that kept her off the bench for Friday’s game, Wiegman’s touch was evident in the squad, which again remained unchanged. After all, why would she change it when the squad purrs so well as a collective regardless of the stakes?
While other teams considered favorites faltered or looked uncertain at times, England continued to function as a well-oiled machine. With their 5-0 win over Northern Ireland, England finished the group stage without conceding, only the second team to do so at a Women’s Championship – the other being Germany when they won the tournament in 2005.
“In the end, the team performance showed that we have a lot of quality in everything that’s going on,” said assistant coach Arjan Veurink after the game, taking over the lead role for Wiegman. “They were calm and they were relaxed and even though Sarina isn’t here they reacted really well and I’m very happy with the team performance.
“The first 30 minutes, to be fair to NI, they did well – we didn’t use the right spaces to play and that’s one of the things we’ve been trying to focus our attention on – we’ve got it in Did the first part of the second half really well and sometimes when they’re defending in a low block it’s really difficult.”
While Friday was the first game in which England took just 40 minutes to score, they scored some glorious goals through Fran Kirby, Beth Mead and substitute Alessia Russo, who scored with her first touch. The 5-0 lead means they have now scored 98 goals in 17 games under Wiegman and are unbeaten in 17 games, a team record.
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The records keep coming in too.
Ellen White is one goal away from Wayne Rooney’s record in England. Mead is one goal away from Inka Gring’s Euro record of six goals in one tournament and is leading the race for the Golden Boot. She would also draw Jodie Taylor by one more for the most goals scored by an English player at the Euro. Of the six top scorers in the competition so far, four are English. Kirby tops the assists chart. England also broke the record for most goals scored (14) in the group stage.
Not a bad tournament for the hosts so far.
While their success during Euro 2022 so far has been a team effort, it’s hard to overlook some of the individual accomplishments.
Mead, who has had one of her best seasons ever in the Women’s Super League, looks like a woman dedicated to scoring as many goals as possible. Heading into the 2021/22 season, the main topic of conversation around her was the fact that she was not selected to compete in the Olympics by Hege Riise with Team Great Britain. It seems that since that moment she has used every opportunity to show why that was a mistake by Riise. She scored 11 goals and had eight assists with Arsenal and that form has continued in her international appearances.
“Of course it was disappointing last summer but would I be the player I am today if that hadn’t happened? Maybe not,” said the 27-year-old before the start of the tournament. “I’m enjoying my football, I’m really happy out there on the pitch, it shows in my performances and hopefully I can bring some of that into this summer’s Euros.
“I know it’s only been a year but I think I’ve matured as a player. I think I’ve started to maybe stop thinking about what other people think and focus a little bit more on myself.
“I played with a lot more freedom this year and I think when I play freely I play my best football. I don’t overcomplicate anything. I make better decisions this year and for me there was a lot more freedom on a football pitch.”
Her goal here on Friday was another highlight. She controlled it with her right foot and then took it around the Northern Ireland defender. She then switched to her left foot and hammered the ball past Jackie Burns.
Another player who has featured in this tournament before, despite her own difficulties, is Kirby. While she’s often the center of attention and a queen of assists, whether for Chelsea team-mate Sam Kerr or her England team-mates, her goal against Northern Ireland reminded everyone of the great goals she can land. England had pounded on the Northern Ireland goal when Kirby controlled the ball on the outside of the box and whipped the ball into the top right corner.
It was questionable whether she would be able to compete in the tournament after missing parts of the end of the season due to fatigue issues, but she has shown it hasn’t slowed her down.
“I wanted to score throughout the tournament and put myself in good positions, but I couldn’t,” Kirby said after the game. “Luckily today I was in the right spot and I had good touch and it was one of those guys you watch to see if he goes in. When he did I was just really happy to open my account. “
Also of note is Russo, who came on for White early in the second half. She headed in with her first touch and minutes later managed a wonderful turn to slot in her second.
There has been much debate as to whether Russo should start ahead of White, especially ahead of the tournament when White were in a goal drought, and with four goals in four games, she’s giving Wiegman a selection headache. She seems unlikely to change her perennial squad choice, however, but Russo is a great option off the bench, especially if she joins with Manchester United team-mate Ella Toone.
“I enjoy every game in an England shirt and it’s great to come on and score a goal. I was just in the right place at the right time and I put it on the net,” she said. “I should have finished the last one but we’ll move on to the next game. I’ve been watching Ian Wright’s goals this week and maybe that helped me. Of course I want to play for England in every game but I know I have to .” Be patient.”
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Many were confident England could emerge from this group – but the way they did it shows why they should be considered favorites for the tournament.
Spain or Denmark await them in the quarter-finals, depending on how Saturday’s Group B clash goes, as both sit on three points. This will no doubt be a tougher test for England than what they experienced in the group stage, but it’s hard to see them faltering at this stage. Spain have only scored four goals in the tournament so far, Denmark just one. Northern Ireland manager Kenny Shiels said after the defeat it would be a “failure” if England didn’t win the whole thing.
“It would be a massive failure if they didn’t win this tournament. They’re home and washed up. Everyone else should just go home,” he said.
Wiegman brought a level of professionalism to this team that has been lacking in previous tournaments. The main question now is: can she keep it up?
https://www.espn.com/soccer/uefa-womens-european-championship/story/4701651/englands-record-setting-euro-2022-group-stage-shows-the-other-so-called-favourites-how-its-done England’s record-setting Euro 2022 group stage shows the other so-called favourites how it’s done