England Women sailed through their first Euro 2022 warm-up test against Belgium Women, cruising to a 3-0 victory at Molineux, with the tournament officially commencing in 20 days’ time.
Sarina Wiegman’s side were, for 45 minutes at least, in full competition mode in front of a near-10,000 strong crowd, who were treated to three second-half goals and a particularly impressive attacking display – one that deserved more of an impressionable scoreline.
Chloe Kelly, returning from a long-term knee injury, opened the scoring via a deflected effort which wrong-footed Nicky Evrard, who was responsible for keeping England’s abundant frontline at bay during a frustrating first half.
England: Earps, Bronze, Wubben-Moy, Bright, Stokes, Walsh, Williamson, Stanway, Mead, Hemp, White.
Subs: Daly, Hampton, Kirby, Toone, Greenwood, Parris, Kelly, England, Scott, Roebuck, Russo, Carter.
Belgium: Evarard, Deloose, Kees, De Neve, Philtjens, Biesmans, Minnaert, Delacauw, Wijnants, De Caigny, Wullaert.
Subs: Lemey, Vangheluwe, Tysiak, Onzia, Vanmechelen, Tison, Eurlings, Van Kerkhoven, Janssens, Dhont, Missipo.
After that, one quickly became two, with the hosts needing little more than four minutes to double their advantage through Rachel Daly, who was first to react to a loose ball inside the box before lashing into the net.
Captain Leah Williamson capped a majestic midfield display with a goal of her own – via the head of Evrard – to seal a comprehensive victory and kickstart what should prove to be a momentum-building period for the Lionesses.
Some wasteful first-half finishing and a few experimental changes in the second half will give Wiegman some food for thought ahead of next week’s fixture against the Netherlands – but her unbeaten streak as manager, now 12 games, was never really under threat.
Fran Kirby – another player returning from a spell on the sidelines – enjoyed a cameo role from the bench, with Wiegman confirming the forward is in a “good place” and will feature in both of England’s next two friendly ties.
In tribute to Wiegman’s sister, who passed away earlier this month, all England players wore black armbands.
Wiegman: We need to be more ruthless for Euros
England head coach Sarina Wiegman:
“The first half, we played well, we created but didn’t score. We needed some more depth in the game, runs in behind. We did that a little better in the second half. When you win 3-0 it’s enough, but when we go into the Euros we need a little more ruthlessness.
“We have a plan when we play. Of course we want to score the chances, but as long as you don’t concede you have time. We dominate the game and then you have to have patience. There comes a moment when we do score that one; yes, we want to do it earlier but in the final third we have to be a little more ruthless.
“The competition in this team is very high. We have opportunities for many players. Now we are also looking for connections. Different qualities in different positions. We’re getting a little closer, but we are not all set. Two matches to go. Things can change really quick too, that’s what we know in this sport.
“We have a squad of 23 and you can play every single player. I hope I don’t get a headache, but they are giving me problems [in selection].”
Analysis: Leah Williamson shines in captain’s role
Sky Sports’ Laura Hunter at Molineux:
Choosing to appoint 25-year-old Leah Williamson as permanent captain marked a turning point in the evolution of this England team under Wiegman. She wasn’t necessarily the standout choice – albeit with all of the leadership qualities a good captain possesses – but she was the progressive choice.
There were plenty of candidates with more caps than the Arsenal defender-cum-midfielder, but none as enterprising. And without the fallback of Steph Houghton in the final 23 squad, Williamson’s candidacy will be tested. This is a massive undertaking for a player who is only embarking on her second major tournament, having played six minutes of football at the 2019 World Cup in France. Can she rise to the challenge?
Based on tonight, absolutely. Mature, commanding and direct. The way she plays embodies some of the personality traits she offers as a leader. Teammates clearly respect her – the opposition do the same. She controlled the middle of the park tonight, ran box to box, and connected defence with attack. The double pivot with Keira Walsh is particularly effective and was the source of England’s success – a platform to build from. She has enviable energy levels and an adhesive touch, which is the perfect combination for a midfield No 8.
Analysis: Plenty of pluses for England, but be wary of the counter-attack
Sky Sports’ Charlotte Marsh:
These three friendlies are a chance to – yes pick up wins – but also to produce those tournament-winning glimpses we all want to see. At half time, the play was certainly there, but the final product was lacking. Was the pressure already starting to show?
Absolutely not. While the second half may not have been chance after chance as the first period was, the clinical edge finally came to the fore. Belgium are ranked 20th in the FIFA rankings are by no means pushovers – a 3-0 win against them is an impressive feat.
Leah Williamson led by example in the middle of the pitch – and at the front and back too for that matter – but it was down the wings where England were the most dangerous. With Demi Stokes and Lucy Bronze driving down the channels, the Lionesses were almost playing with four wingers at some points.
Bronze linked up brilliantly with Beth Mead and then Chole Kelly down that right – Kelly in particular showing no ill-effects from her ACL injury and dazzling in her 45 minutes. Lauren Hemp down the left also put in numerous ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ runs, easily beating those Belgium defenders. You almost have to feel sorry for their full-backs.
England defence, meanwhile, were never really tested. There were only a handful of chances for Belgium with their top goalscorer Tessa Wullaert mostly kept quiet. Mary Earps only made one save late in the game with England still only conceding one goal under Sarina Wiegman.
But some of their chances did come on the counter with England’s full-backs pushed high up the field. The Lionesses were sometimes caught in the transition, and were lucky that Belgium did not really have the quality on show to make them count. Although Wiegman likes to play with high-flying full-backs, it could come back to bite them come tournament time if they’re not careful.
But one of the improvements in England’s goalscoring in the second half did come with the introduction of Alex Greenwood. You would expect her to line-up along Mille Bright at centre-back against Austria in the Euros opener, with the long balls played by the pair a big factor in Belgium’s defence eventually being breached. They will be crucial for success this summer.
England continue to impress from set-pieces too. Goals two and three both came from corners as Belgium struggled to clear their lines and the Lionesses looked dangerous in other moments too. Set-pieces could be key in those tight games this summer.
It’s clear too that England have a bench of game changers – half-time substitutes Kelly and Greenwood changed the second half. The likes of Beth England, Fran Kirby and Nikita Parris are just a few of the players who also came on and while they may not have had such an impact on Wednesday, can easily change a game themselves.
Those teams who are most successful in tournaments need to lean on their talented squads and Wiegman certainly has that in her locker. Now the players need to make the wins count when it matters.
The Lionesses next face a trip to Elland Road where they will host reigning European champions the Netherlands in the second of their three warm-up ties, before travelling to Zurich to take on Switzerland on June 30.
Attention turns to Euro 2022 thereafter, a year later than originally scheduled, where England will open the tournament against Austria at Old Trafford on July 6.
Follow Euro 2022 across Sky Sports
Keep up with all the latest from Euro 2022 across Sky Sports and Sky Sports News this summer.
Coverage will be anchored by Sky Sports WSL presenter Caroline Barker, alongside Jessica Creighton and Kyle Walker. Meanwhile, Karen Carney, Sue Smith, Courtney Sweetman-Kirk and Laura Bassett will give analysis throughout the tournament.
They will also be joined by experienced England goalkeeper Karen Bardsley and Manchester City defender Esme Morgan.
The pundits and presenters will work from the Sky Sports Women’s Euro 2022 Mobile Presentation Bus, which will follow the Sky Sports News team around the country to the various stadiums where matches are being played.
In addition, Sky Sports’ Essential Football Podcast will be rebranded for the tournament to Sky Sports Women’s Euros Podcast from June 21. Hosted by Charlotte Marsh and Anton Toloui, it will feature exclusive news and player interviews in addition to a strong programme line up around the tournament.
Euro 2022: The groups…
Group A: England, Austria, Norway, Northern Ireland
Group B: Germany, Denmark, Spain, Finland
Group C: Netherlands, Sweden, Portugal, Switzerland
Group D: France, Italy, Belgium, Iceland
Euro 2022: The schedule…
Wednesday July 6
Group A: England vs Austria – kick off 8pm, Old Trafford
Thursday July 7
Group A: Norway vs Northern Ireland – kick off 8pm, St Mary’s
Friday July 8
Group B: Spain vs Finland – kick off 5pm, Stadium MK
Group B: Germany vs Denmark – kick off 8pm, London Community Stadium
Saturday July 9
Group C: Portugal vs Switzerland – kick off 5pm, Leigh Sports Village
Group C: Netherlands vs Sweden – kick off 8pm, Bramall Lane
Sunday July 10
Group D: Belgium vs Iceland – kick off 5pm, Manchester City Academy Stadium
Group D: France vs Italy – kick off 8pm, New York Stadium
Monday July 11
Group A: Austria vs Northern Ireland – kick off 5pm, St Mary’s
Group A: England v Norway – kick off 8pm, Brighton and Hove Community Stadium
Tuesday July 12
Group B: Denmark vs Finland – kick off 5pm, Stadium MK
Group B: Germany vs Spain – kick off 8pm, London Community Stadium
Wednesday July 13
Group C: Sweden vs Switzerland – kick off 5pm, Bramall Lane
Group C: Netherlands v Portugal – kick off 8pm, Leigh Sports Village
Thursday July 14
Group D: Italy vs Iceland – kick off 5pm, Manchester City Academy Stadium
Group D: France vs Belgium – kick off 8pm, New York Stadium
Friday July 15
Group A: Northern Ireland v England – kick off 8pm, St Mary’s
Group A: Austria vs Norway – kick off 8pm, Brighton and Hove Community Stadium
Saturday July 16
Group B: Finland vs Germany – kick off 8pm, Stadium MK
Group B: Denmark vs Spain – kick off 8pm, London Community Stadium
Sunday July 17
Group C: Switzerland vs Netherlands – kick off 5pm, Bramall Lane
Group C: Sweden vs Portugal – kick off 5pm, Leigh Sports Village
Monday July 18
Group D: Iceland vs France – kick off 8pm, New York Stadium
Group D: Italy vs Belgium – kick off 8pm, Manchester City Academy Stadium
Wednesday July 20
Quarter-final 1: Winners Group A v Runners-up Group B – kick off 8pm, Brighton and Hove Community Stadium
Thursday July 21
Quarter-final 2: Winners Group B v Runners-up Group A – kick off 8pm, London Community Stadium
Friday July 22
Quarter-final 3: Winners Group C v Runners-up Group D – kick off 8pm, Leigh Sports Village
Quarter-final 4: Winners Group D v Runners-up Group C – kick off 8pm, New York Stadium
Tuesday July 26
Semi-final 1: Winners quarter-final 1 v Winners quarter-final 3 – kick off 8pm, Bramall Lane
Wednesday July 27
Semi-final 2: Winners quarter-final 2 v Winners quarter-final 4 – kick-off 8pm, Stadium MK
Sunday July 31
Winners semi-final 1 v Winners semi-final 2 – kick off 5pm, Wembley
Source : Sky Sports