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  • Writer's pictureBy Dan Evans

James is in and Bright may be out but England keep on winning regardless

England (1) 1 Toone 23

Brazil (0) 1 Alves 90+2

England win 4-2 on penalties

Can Sarina Wiegman’s England be stopped? With changes enforced and elective alike made for the first ever Women’s Finalissima against Brazil at Wembley, they still found a way to add another trophy to their collection despite an underwhelming second half showing and the potential pitfalls that a penalty shootout can bring.

Silverware is never to be sniffed at, yet the way in which Millie Bright – one of the two totems at the centre of the European Championship winning defence – was not missed for most of the night, combined with the way in which her Chelsea team-mate, the effervescent Lauren James, has been integrated into the team may be cause for even greater satisfaction.

The mental fortitude shown in shaking off a poor second half and holding their collective nerve from 12 yards will perhaps do more for this team than an early spring stroll under the Wembley arch ever could.

“It was a very exciting night in the end,” Wiegman said after the game, her characteristic smile belying the stress of a shootout victory. “First half we played really well. We had lots of possession, we created lots of chances. We scored an incredible goal. I had hoped we would score more than one.”

Chelsea defender Jess Carter was Bright’s replacement in the backline against Brazil but was deployed at left-back with Alex Greenwood moved inside to partner captain Leah Williamson. It was precisely the sort of re-shuffling that can unbalance a champion team, yet England were largely untroubled for 92 minutes here.

James’s form for Chelsea has made her impossible for Wiegman to ignore. The audible gasps from the Wembley crowd every time she set off on a dribble make her impossible to miss. Although she was denied a Wembley goal by an offside flag following a powerful finish, the winger added some sparkle to England’s steadfast control of proceedings in the first half.

Although the opening goal was not a result of her direct involvement, an intelligent decision to move infield created room down the right flank that Lucy Bronze could not help but exploit. Bronze played a brilliant one-two with Georgia Stanway before teeing up Ella Toone to sweep the ball into the net.

Having thoroughly spoiled the evening of Brazil left-back Tamires in less than half hour, Wiegman then switched her new star to the other side to test Antonia Silva. Given Lauren Hemp had already burned past Silva more than once in the opening exchanges, it was perhaps no surprise that James danced past her with ease to set up her fellow winger for a header straight at Leticia Izidoro.

Brazil reacted in the second half but were still held at arms’ length by the perma-composed Williamson and the makeshift structure around her. Toone felt she was fouled in the build-up to Earps expertly turning a Geyse Ferreira shot onto the crossbar on the hour mark, in what looked destined to be the only moment of real jeopardy on the night.

Following that scare, England tried to do what all teams on the path to greatness do; respond. The pace of the game disappeared through the metronomic passing of Keira Walsh coupled with the industry of those around her. James made way for the more functional Chloe Kelly. They even encouraged a Mexican Wave to break out.

“There were two different halves,” admitted Wiegman post-match. “They had a very high press, and we were struggling [in the second half]. We were struggling to keep possession and they became more dangerous. In the end we conceded a goal, which can happen. The team did really well to show resilience.”

Williamson was usually on hand to bolt the backdoor on the rare occasion a team-mate threatened to offer the house keys to a Brazilian attacker. But the ever so reliably Earps lapsed in injury-time as she spilled the ball at the feet of Andressa Alves to send the contest to penalties and offer England a test of their mentality perhaps greater than the 90 minutes had challenged them technically and tactically.

Earps more than redeemed herself within minutes, saving from Tamires. Arsenal’s Rafaelle hit the crossbar. West London-born Kelly had her second famous Wembley moment in less than a year as she lashed home the decisive spot kick. England, despite falling below their imperious best are now unbeaten in 30 matches and their trophy cabinet is brimming. Stopping them looks quite the challenge.

England: (4-3-3) Earps – Bronze, Williamson, Greenwood, Carter – Stanway, Walsh, Toone – James (Kelly 74), Russo (Daly 74), Hemp (Robinson 88). Subs not used: Roebuck, Hampton, Le Tissier, Morgan, Wubben-Moy, Charles, Nobbs, Coombs, Park


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