“What we have been trying to do is switch fields very quickly, and then find spaces and have crosses also, and be relentless. I think that was ok. When you score 10, it’s pretty good.”
These were the words of a satisfied Sarina Wiegman as England wrapped up a successful first camp, securing an emphatic victory over Luxembourg without having to move out of second gear.
After dispatching of North Macedonia in Southampton, the Lionesses made the short journey to the centre of Europe to play their first competitive away fixture in over 17 months. Once again, they arrived outright favourites, and were expected to dominate and improve on the finishing that evaded them at times on Friday night. Wiegman made two changes to that side, handing starts to Nikita Parris and a fit again Fran Kirby to bolster their attack, while Leah Williamson retained the armband in the middle of the park.
Luxembourg are certainly the underdogs of Group D. Managed by Dan Santos, they are ranked 122nd in the world with the majority of their players based in their domestic leagues. Hosting England, therefore, was a big occasion for this side with the tie being held at their state-of-the-art Stade de Luxembourg. Opened only at the beginning of this month, the sparkling new venue was a source of great pride for the 1,200 plus Luxembourgers filing in to support their team.
They were certainly determined to back their team to the hilt, filling the venue with the din of their drums and chants from behind one of the goals. And their team started well, their defensive formation frustrating the Lionesses in the opening stages. With six at the back at times, the spaces were few and far between as balls through the middle got cut out.
England were getting most of their joy out on the flanks, specifically down the left side. It was from here that they carved out the first goal with Lauren Hemp producing a trademark turn of pace to provide space for a cross. It found Ellen White at the far post who produced a finish of the quality just expected of her these days. The second followed shortly after; this time it was one-touch passing through the middle – Williamson to Kirby to White – that sliced Luxembourg apart and edged White ever closer to the all-time England record.
The visitors added two more to the tally. Kirby turned provider again as her corner deflected to Parris to turn home. Ten minutes later, another Kirby delivery was headed out to Alex Greenwood, who marked her 50th cap with a well-taken finish. In all truth, England were in cruise control as the half-time whistle blew.
Despite Greenwood’s deflected strike adding another immediately after the break, Luxembourg proved a tighter defensive unit in the second half. With the routes through the middle cut off, England’s players had to retain their focus and find solutions to the wall in their way. As Millie Bright said post-match, one thing you cannot be is complacent in these fixtures: “These games are tough. Breaking blocks down is not easy. You’ve got to have a lot of patience, quality on the ball, and be clinical.”
“Relentless” has been a word used by coach and players alike over the last ten days and the introduction of some fresh legs added to the Lionesses’ impetus. Shortly after the introduction of Beth England, Jessica Berscheid put a low cross into her own net, aware of the very presence of the forward behind her.
With 11 minutes to play, Millie Bright finally opened her account with her first international goal on her 40th cap. Goals are a bit like buses and shortly after, the defender notched her second much to her delight: “I finally broke the curse. It’s an honour to play let alone to score and then to get two…I waited a long time.”
With the game deep into the 90th minute, there was still time for the moment of the match. Switched to a forward in the closing stages, Rachel Daly popped up in the box to poke a cross home. As she pointed to the sky for her late father, she was mobbed by her teammates, by her side once more after the most difficult of weeks in which she has displayed immense courage. As Bright, Daly’s best friend, said: “I think there’s not enough words for Rach as a human being…how she’s had the strength to even attend camp, let alone then play and have two outstanding games, and then to score. I think with or without the goal, I’m unbelievably proud of her as always.”
Beth England sealed the perfect ten in the final minute of the game to wrap up the Lionesses’ dominant performance.
Much has been made about the standard of opposition England have faced this last ten days, but you can only beat what is in front of you, something that they have struggled to do in recent times. This was the first time they had registered back-to-back victories since the quarterfinals of the 2019 World Cup. Equally positive is the fact that goals arrived from all over the park with the over-reliance on Ellen White a clear feature of recent times.
Wiegman has had an immediate impact on the pitch and both wins will have laid the foundations for October and helped build some much-needed confidence. Next up is Wembley against a Northern Ireland side, riding an incredible wave at the moment – an amazing occasion yes, but also a potential banana skin. England will have to be at their absolute “relentless” best to ensure there are no slip ups along the way.