(Pic via Daily Mirror).
First half and it’s England who are bossing the Yanks. Wow. Yes, those Yanks, who’ve been light years ahead for a decade. But suddenly – or is it suddenly? – things have changed.
The change of regime has plainly been a factor, here, as is the inevitable turning of the talent cycle. England *do* now have a clutch of ver-ry good and very experienced players who are playing, for the most part, in a Women’s Super League that is almost unrecognisable from the division of even a couple of years ago. The environment, the context has surged electrifyingly forward, skill-wise and particularly in terms of composure – just watch the matches on the tellybox. The subtle movements, the retreating into space and opening-up of angles is so-o much more sophisticated than it was. Bright, Greenwood and Daly have all transitioned from relative journeywomen to relative ball-players.
Wiegman must also take huge credit. Not just for the delivery of the first major silverware since the age of the dinosaurs but also for the cultivation of a high level of execution. And consistency. And ease, at this elevated parallel. England were nervy and ordinary as recently as the early stages of the Euros but the gaffer’s supreme equanimity and humour (as well as tactical intelligence) was surely a major factor in the development of a more fluent, confident side. A side that floods forwards relentlessly and fearlessly for 40 minutes, against the United States of America.
It’s 2-1 England, at the half, after Hemp bundles in and Stanway slots a pen. The England midfielder had earlier dwelt criminally, if momentarily, on a weighted pass from Bright that she simply had to biff away, first touch, under the imminent challenge. Instead she tried to ‘do more’, was caught, and the brilliant Smith cracked home. VAR may have robbed the visitors of their second equaliser but the home side deserved (if that’s even a thing?) their lead.
After an old-fashioned bollocking from Ted Lasso – I jest, of course, though a) they, the U.S. needed it and b) he was knocking around – the Americans turned up, post the interval. They were better, for 20 minutes. The game and the stadium quietened. Or it started to moan more, at decisions, in frustration.
Kirby – who has been on the margins – is replaced by Toone. There has been an absence of heads-up football. That sense of potential reality-check (for England) builds. Rapinoe comes into the game, without exactly influencing. Both sides make errors as the frisson, the contagion develops. Toone gets tricky *with a view to drawing a pen* but the ref rightly waives away. The pitch appears to have shrunk, or players are somehow less able to find and revel in space.
In recent days, there have been serious revelations about widespread abuse of professional female players, in the States. A horrendous, shadowy narrative that we can only hope will be shifted towards justice and resolution by powerful voices in the game such as the now-veteran American playmaker (and public/political figure) Megan Rapinoe. Tonight, on the pitch she again stands out, but more for her strikingly purple barnet than for any of her *actual contributions*. The movement is silky and assured but the effect minimal. Even she can’t string this thing together, entirely.
Stanway symbolises the whole drift by easing with some grace into the red zone then clattering agriculturally wide. The standard of officiating drops in sympathy with the play. Having emphatically and instantly given a penalty, the ref has to concede that the backside of an England player is not the extended arm she presumed it to be. In short, a howler cleared-up. There are multiple subs – this is a friendly, after all – and the (on reflection) ultimately below-par Rapinoe is amongst those withdrawn.
Late-on, Toone is wide, in space, in the box. Player of the Match Bronze finds her but the volley is medium-rank. Similarly, Smith lazily under-achieves with a ball that drops invitingly twelve yards out. Hmm. Neither side can find their players.
When the whistle goes, it’s clear the crowd’s loved it, anyway. (With the ole scoreboard saying 2-1 England and the statto’s confirming 23 matches undefeated, who am I to argue?) I won’t argue. England are in a really good place – women’s football is in a spectacular place – with improvement, development and quality visible for all to see.
Yes. Let’s finish by repeating that. Two of the best teams in the world. A massive, near record-breaking crowd and quality visible for all to see.