The Lionesses strengthened their Euros credentials with a blistering 5-1 dismantling of holders of the Netherlands in their penultimate pre-tournament friendly.
Sarina Wiegman’s side was forced to come from behind for the first time during her tenure, but Lucy Bronze scored the reply to Lieke Martens first-half goal before Sherida Sptise powered a penalty off the outside of the post to wake up the lax home team. An instant response from Beth Mead a minute-and-a-half after the penalty put England ahead before Ella Toone and Lauren Hemp scored in quick succession for the, by then, rampant side and Mead added a late fifth.
Wiegman made five changes to the team that put three past Belgium last week. Alex Greenwood returned to the starting line up in place of Lotte Wubben-Moy, Rachel Daly filled in place of Demi Stokes at left-back, Fran Kirby began as the No 10, Chloe Kelly was preferred to Beth Mead on the right wing and Beth England led the line with record goal scorer Ellen White absent with Covid.
It has been a long time since England has faced the Netherlands. Then, manager Wiegman was in the opposite dugout, leading her team to a 3-0 semi-final win over England before going on to secure a home Euros triumph for the Netherlands against Denmark in the 2017 final.
With the Dutch manager now with England and English manager Mark Parsons having swapped Portland Thorns for the holders ahead of the Euros, and England playing in orange while the Dutch donned white shirts, any fans craving their next Stranger Things hit will have had their appetite sated by a game seemingly being played in the Upside Down.
There was familiarity. Five of the Netherlands starting line-up played in the semi-final in 2017, while three of England’s XI, Bronze, Millie Bright and Kirby experienced heartbreak in Enschede.
If there had been concerns about just how ready Chelsea midfielder Kirby was ahead of this summer’s tournament following her time out with a fatigue problem, then those concerns were partly allayed in the first half against the runners up in the 2019 World Cup. Kirby’s value was clear within two minutes as her and Kelly combined neatly on the right.
It would be down the right that England looked most threatening, with the Dutch defense doing well to nullify the threat of Lauren Hemp.
Wiegman had wanted tougher tests for her Lionesses before their Euros opener at Old Trafford on the 6 July and they got one at Elland Road. Mary Earps did well to deny Lineth Beerensteyn from close range after the forward had wriggled free of Bronze before firing goalward.
The visiting team took the lead three minutes later and the source was familiar. Martens, who has joined Paris Saint-Germain after leaving Barcelona this summer, ran England’s defense ragged in 2017 and her near-post header from a corner evaded the static defenders between herself and the goal and caught out Earps, who was slow to react.
It was the first time England had fallen behind under Wiegman and without White as the focal point up to they lacked bite in their attack.
Kirby had been fielding some hefty challenges and, in the 32nd minute, when the latest came in the forward managed to flick the ball to her right as she went down, Bronze collected and clipped the ball towards the far post and it curved in.
Shortly after the break there was a VAR check for a Netherlands penalty after Greenwood whipped the feet away from former Arsenal player from Danielle van de Donk in the box. The centre-back was booked for the sloppy challenge but Spitse, making her 200th appearance for her country, smacked the resulting penalty off the outside of the post.
The reply from England was instant. Just 90 seconds after the penalty miss, England took the lead for the first time. Kirby and Daly were involved in the build-up from deep with Daly supplying for Keira Walsh who sent a slick pass into the run of Hemp. The Manchester City forward raced clear on the left before sending a cross in which he was turned in by substitute Mead. As if shaken awake by the penalty, England looked far more focused and direct.
A string of changes for both sides saw Arsenal forward and Dutch record goal-scorer Vivianne Miedema enter, and Manchester United’s Ella Toone was given the chance to stake her claim for the up-in-the-air No 10 role, coming on in place of Kirby.
The impact of the substitute was instant. Leeds fan Daly, who was superb throughout, released Toone who skated round Lynn Wilms and swept the ball low into the far corner.
Two minutes later and England had four. Bronze’s cross from the right was lashed off the base of the post by Toone before the ball was worked clear but only as far as Hemp who looped her volley into the corner. In the 90th minute Mead continued her thrilling form for England, latching on to the loose ball after Alessia Russo’s miss-hit to fire in.
It is just a friendly, but a win against the holders, and World Cup runners-up and Olympic silver medalists will do the confidence of Wiegman’s side the world of good ahead of their Old Trafford bow.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism