England U19s took one step closer to the European Championships of Saturday afternoon, with a 4-0 win over Sweden.
The Young Lionesses had beaten Turkey emphatically in their opener on Wednesday and it was anticipated that their new opponents would present a more physical threat. With Sweden having suffered a narrow defeat to Italy on Wednesday, this was a must game win for both teams. The nature of these Elite Rounds means few teams can afford a slip up and a win for England could put them in the driving seat ahead of their final game.
Manager, Rehanne Skinner, made seven changes to her starting XI that had lined up against Turkey. Lauren Hemp spear-headed the attack, supported by Jessica Naz and Ella Rutherford. Meanwhile, Amy Rodgers joined the midfield and Georgia Eaton-Collins partnered captain Esme Morgan in central defence. Poppy Pattinson replaced Olivia Smith at left back while Hannah Hampton took up her spot between the sticks.
England would have aimed for a strong start and sure enough, they flew out of the blocks. Within three minutes, they were ahead. Breaking out from the back, Pattinson sent a pinpoint pass down the left flank to Naz. The Tottenham forward broke into the area at speed, made space for herself and sent a shot into the top corner.
The visitors looked shell-shocked and England began to dominate the play, with the Swedish defence struggling to handle the pace of Hemp and Naz. The Manchester City striker almost found herself on the scoresheet, flashing an effort just wide of the far post.
The hosts were deserving of another goal and in the 23rd minute, they found the back of the net again. Naz turned provider this time, entering the box and laying the ball across the face of goal. Rutherford was there waiting in space on the penalty spot and made no mistake in firing home.
A third goal was coming as England kept creating the opportunities. Hemp waltzed through the Swedish midfield to set up Rutherford, but the Bristol player was just eased off the ball before she could find a shot.
They didn’t have to wait long, however, and added to their lead with just over half an hour on the clock. Just as with the first goal, Pattinson turned provider, finding Naz on the edge of the area. It was going to be tough to eclipse her opening strike but she managed it, curling her strike perfectly over the outstretched Moa Edrud.
Three minutes later, it was four. After Edrud made a brilliant close-range block to deny Naz a hat-trick, she subsequently tripped her up in the area. It was the clearest decision of the afternoon for the referee as she pointed to the spot. Aimee Palmer stepped up and was initially denied by another top save from the Swedish goalkeeper but reached the rebound first to turn it home. England went in at the break in full control of proceedings.
Despite sweeping changes by Sweden, the second half began in much the same vein as the first with the hosts creating multiple chances. Rutherford went for the spectacular, sending Naz’ cross wide with a bicycle kick before substitute, Ebony Salmon, had a powerful effort blocked. Rodgers also came close, seeing her strike from distance tipped over the bar by Edrud. The Swedish defender, Linn Bogren, almost got in the act herself, volleying Pattinson’s cross off her own crossbar.
The addition of Beata Olsson to their attack, with half an hour left to play, did give Sweden an extra dimension as they seemed to find a second wind. The forward was a bright spark that produced some smart defending from Morgan and Neville in front of goal. She also forced the save of the afternoon from Hampton in the England goal. Breaking through one-on-one in the dying stages, she sent a low effort goalwards. The Birmingham City keeper reacted quickly, stretching out a leg to just divert it away for its destination and maintain a clean sheet.
It was the last play of the game and the referee’s whistle blew signalling an impressive victory for the Young Lionesses. They go into their final game against Italy on Tuesday knowing a draw will be enough to see them through to the summer’s Championships.
We caught up with Amy Rodgers and Lauren Hemp after the game:
How would you sum up that performance?
LH: Yeah, I think it was a great result. There’s a lot of positives to take, especially from the first half. We did exactly what the game plan asked and managed to get four goals quite early on. I think we can take them into the Italy game on Tuesday.
On paper, this game looked like it was going to be tougher than against Turkey. How important then was it that you got that quick start?
AR: We knew it was going to be separate from Turkey and that it would be a challenge. That’s why it was important to get that quick start. I thought we did really well. It’s going to be tough again against Italy, so we have got to make sure we start even stronger in the next game as well.
What do expect from the Italians that will be different to what Turkey and Sweden have presented so far?
LH: We can’t be complacent. We’ve come off the back of two convincing wins, but we need to go into the game with the same mindset and game plan. If we do everything right, we should hopefully get the result.
How pleasing is it to see goals coming from different players across the squad?
AR: Yeah, it’s great to see different people get on the scoresheet. It’s good to show that we are not relying on just one person, everyone is contributing. It means if someone is having a bad game, we know that others can step up as well.