Sarina Wiegman has played down England’s Euro credentials after a blistering 5-1 dismantling of the Netherlands in their penultimate pre-tournament friendly. “I think there are a lot of favorites for this tournament, and we are one of them,” she said wryly.
England had been forced to come from behind for the first time during Wiegman’s tenure but Lucy Bronze scored the answer to Lieke Martens’ first-half goal before Sherida Sptise sent a penalty away from the post to wake up the lax home team. An instant response from Beth Mead a minute and a half from the penalty gave England the lead before Ella Toone and Lauren Hemp scored in quick succession for the then frantic side and Mead added a fifth in end of game.
Netherlands coach Mark Parsons said 5-1 was “horrible to hear” and he took responsibility for the heavy loss. “It was a very difficult evening,” he said. “The only thing we wanted to avoid when facing a big game and a big team at the start of our preparations was this result. I feel a great responsibility.
Wiegman made five changes to the side which beat Belgium three times last week, including choosing Beth England to lead the line with top scorer Ellen White absent with Covid.
It had been a long time since England had faced the Netherlands. Then Wiegman was in the opposite dugout, leading his side to a 3-0 semi-final win over England before earning a home Euros triumph for the Netherlands in the 2017 final.
With the Dutch manager now with England and England manager Parsons having swapped Portland Thorns for the holders before the Euros, and England playing in orange while the Dutch donned white shirts, all fans looking for their next Stranger Things hit will have had their appetite sated by a game apparently being played in the Upside Down.
If there had been any concerns about Chelsea midfielder Fran Kirby’s preparation ahead of this summer’s tournament following his time out with a fatigue issue, these were partly allayed in the first half against the 2019 World Cup finalists. Kirby’s value in the No.10 role was clear in two minutes as she and Chloe Kelly combined perfectly on the right.
Wiegman had wanted tougher tests for his Lionesses ahead of their Euro opener at Old Trafford on July 6 and she appeared to be getting it at Elland Road. Mary Earps did well to deny Lineth Beerensteyn from close range after the striker broke free from Bronze.
The visiting team took the lead three minutes later and the source was familiar. Martens led the ragged England defense in 2017 and her near-post header from a corner kicked past the static defenders between her and goal and caught Earps, who was slow to react.
Kirby had put up some big challenges and in the 32nd minute when the last one came the striker managed to kick the ball to her right as she went down Bronze recovered and clipped the ball towards the far post and he bent down.
Shortly after the break there was a VAR check for a Dutch penalty after Alex Greenwood whipped the feet of former Arsenal player Danielle van de Donk in the box. The centre-back was booked for the sloppy challenge but Spitse, making his 200th appearance for his country, hit the resulting penalty just outside the post.
England’s response was instantaneous. Just 90 seconds after the missed penalty, England took the lead. Keira Walsh sent a smooth pass into Hemp’s run and the Manchester City striker ran flawlessly down the left before sending in a cross which was returned by substitute Mead.
A series of changes for both sides saw Arsenal striker and Dutch record goalscorer Vivianne Miedema and Manchester United’s Ella Toone given the chance to claim the No.10 role in the air, in place of Kirby .
The impact of the substitute was instantaneous. Leeds fan Rachel Daly, who was superb throughout, released Toone who skated around Lynn Wilms and swept the ball low into the far corner.
Is bench strength England’s best weapon this summer? “It’s absolutely a weapon,” Wiegman said. “Is that our greatest strength, I don’t know.”
Two minutes later and England had four. The Bronze cross from the right was thrown at the base of the post by Toone before the ball was cleared, but only to Hemp who curled his volley into the corner. In the 90th minute, Mead continued his exciting form for England, hanging on to loose ball after Alessia Russo’s miss.
It’s only a friendly, but Parsons is struggling to look past England.
“The quality of the players, the resources the WSL has invested, the work the clubs have done,” he said. “It’s very difficult to say that they are not the favourites.”