Quarter-final qualification for Team GB was already confirmed but as they took to the field in Kashima, Hege Riise’s side were looking to keep up momentum as they signed off from the group stages. Team GB have been quietly going about their business in Japan, two wins from two and yet to concede a goal. But their opponents on the day, Canada, have proved somewhat of a nemesis of late for England, with both after top spot in Group E.
Riise named a changed starting XI, with Millie Bright, Caroline Weir, Georgia Stanway, Jill Scott and Rachel Daly coming in. The changes seemed to unsettle Team GB in the opening stages with Canada starting on the front foot. Viens fired narrowly wide in the opening minutes with the ball fizzing along the grass in the wet conditions.
Halfway through the first 45, however, Britain began to find their groove with some quick, sharp build-up possession. Demi Stokes was having fun marauding down the left and she began the move that produced the biggest chance of the first half. The ball moved from Stokes to Nikita Parris to Scott in quick succession before the midfielder played a pinpoint through ball into the path of Daly, who was only denied by a vital Ashley Lawrence block.
A lack of concentration early in the second period saw Canada take advantage. There had been a warning sign minutes earlier when Ellie Roebuck sent a pass straight into the path of Adriana Leon, only for Bright to get in the recovery block. The Canadians took the lead in the 55th minute when Scott was robbed of the ball in the middle. Canada worked it to Lawrence who had acres of space to burst into down the left before sending in a low cross that beat the outstretched leg of Lucy Bronze and sat up on a plate for Leon to fire home.
There was no panic from Team GB, however, as they regrouped and pushed hard looking for the equaliser. Riise brought in Kim Little, Ellen White and Fran Kirby to add to the attack. Little set up Weir, who was denied a brilliant goal by the underside of the crossbar, before White turned Canada’s defence but was unable to find enough power to convert the shot. Eventually, the equaliser came and the luck that had eluded Weir earlier, fell her way. Running onto a Bronze pass 25 yards from goal, she sent in a shot that received a big deflection before nestling in the back of the net. The spoils were shared with Team GB securing first place, whilst maintaining their unbeaten run.
“We played three games against three good opponents, and we are performing better and better. This is a new team; we haven’t been together that long…Overall, I think we look strong and confident and that will be important going forward.”
Player of the Match
Caroline Weir is thriving in this tournament and showed her worth again today with another strong midfield showing. She looked the most likely throughout to find the breakthrough and is particularly potent when placed alongside compatriot, Kim Little. The impressive part to Weir’s game though is her ability to do it all and none more so than her willingness to shoot from distance. More often than not, these efforts succeed and while her equaliser today was aided by a deflection, she had earned the good fortune for it to hit the back of the net.
- Adaptability + dealing with pressure
With Canada taking the lead, Team GB had to come from behind for the first time this tournament. It is a different kind of pressure entirely, but Britain and their coaches appeared unfazed by the situation, kept cool heads and pushed for an equaliser. For the second time in as many games, Riise made a tactical switch to give the side more attacking impetus with Little, Kirby and White entering the fray showing her ability to read what’s happening on the field. The Team GB head coach was impressed by her side’s reaction to the circumstances and ability to salvage a point: “I was impressed with how we reacted to conceding the goal and our mentality to go forward. We were still strong defensively and when fresh legs came on, we felt we regained control. Great teams are able to find a way to get the result they need, and we did that tonight.”
- Possession-based football
We mentioned it after the first game, but Britain’s ability in possession is definitely something to shout about. The connections this side have built in such a short time are pretty remarkable and their bravery on the ball and in transition makes for enjoyable watching. The build-up to Daly’s attempt in the first half was one such example of this and was unlucky not to be rewarded. The only thing lacking is consistent clinical finishing in front of goal.
- Defensive performances
Riise has shifted up her defence this tournament with Bronze being the one constant throughout. Leah Williamson and Demi Stokes, however, remained from the game against Japan. Both shone at the back with Williamson pretty much impeccable in her defensive positioning and range of passing. Meanwhile, Stokes appeared to be regaining form and put in a very impressive first half performance.
- Return of Fran Kirby
Kirby has been the one player struggling with injury, having picked up a knock in training at Loughborough. But her return to fitness continued with a spot on the bench for the first time this tournament. She entered the fray in the 77th minute and looked bright and sharp on the ball. As Riise mentioned post-match, having the Barclays FAWSL Player of the Year back fit will be a big boost ahead of the knock-out stages: “She brough fresh legs and energy. She runs into the pockets and is easy to find. We’ve been waiting for her return. She was in excellent form before her injury and it’s great to see her fully back and full of confidence.”