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  • Writer's pictureBy Dan Evans

Sam Kerr offers England a reminder that the World Cup will be no walkover

England (0) 0

Australia (1) 2 Kerr 32, Grant 67

With four trophies in the bag and an unbeaten run standing at 30 matches, Sarina Wiegman’s England had every right to feel full of themselves ahead of a meeting with World Cup hosts Australia.

There was a well-earned swagger about them in the first half of their Finalissima victory against Brazil last week that only the best and most talented sides can pull off. They arrived in Brentford to the sort of fanfare reserved for imminent world champions.

Humility and hard work have of course underpinned everything that has been achieved since Wiegman became head coach, but the subconscious is prone to fallibility even when your mind is right.

Perhaps just a split-second of complacency crept through the head of captain Leah Williamson as she attempted to direct a bouncing ball back in the direction of goalkeeper Mary Earps on a miserably wet night in west London. That brief moment allowed Sam Kerr to pounce.

Possibly in a position that would have been deemed offside by VAR, the Australian captain anticipated the flight of the ball as it kicked up off the sodden turf before producing exactly the type of dead-eyed finish she so often does for Chelsea.

Kerr is a nuisance in every way imaginable. The type of forward you feel you can never go without once she is in your side and one that cannot be tolerated for a moment longer when up against here. Here she proved exactly the sort of obstacle Wiegman had asked for 100 days out from the World Cup.

The Chelsea star fell flat to the ground, arms spread with face in the turf as she celebrated the goal. She had every right to feel exhausted even at that early stage. A half hour of bothering Williamson at every turn and still finding time to block every pass both to and from Keira Walsh would have been enough to leave a less formidable forward unable to influence the game.

But Kerr was always involved, even when her team spent long spells without the ball. The rest she was given in Australia’s Good Friday defeat to Scotland at Wimbledon no doubt beneficial, her mere presence caused problems in itself. Walsh uncharacteristically ceded possession more than once due to the pressure she was under and the visitors threatened when the ball turned over.

It took twenty minutes for Kerr to have her first genuine involvement – a sign of England’s passive dominance of possession. She wriggled free in the penalty area before producing a cross that none of her team-mates could quite read.

Her goal, the defining moment of this performance and something that Williamson will surely spend every waking moment trying to remove from her mind before the summer, was practically her next touch and arrived some 12 minutes later.

As England committed further to salvaging the game and Wiegman’s spectacular undefeated record after the break, Kerr’s presence on the counter only grew.

A devilish turn preceded an effort poked wide of the far post with the outside of her foot as England’s makeshift defence struggled to follow her movement, yet it was her tireless running that proved decisive in Australia confirming their victory.

Long balls played into channels proved effective relief for Tony Gustavsson’s side all night thanks to their captain’s intelligent yet tireless capacity to get around the pitch. One played down the right channel just after the hour mark set up the perfect opportunity for Kerr to provide a near-perfect cross that met the head of Charlotte Grant and found a way beyond Earps via a deflection off Williamson.

From there, Australia saw out the game in classic non-competitive fashion. The substitutes were called upon. The restarts took an age. Their hard work in stifling England and sensing the moments to strike meant they, and Kerr in particular, had earned it.

Mistakes and bad results in friendlies ultimately mean little. They end unbeaten runs and dampen the enthusiasm of expectant sell-out crowds in a way that rain never could, but they do not tangibly cost you a great deal. Get your mistimed headers and unfortunate deflections out of the way now and feel unburdened upon arrival on the other side of the world.

The worry for this England side that has achieved so much, under a manager that has been so successful, will surely be the way in which they appeared so inhibited by a team and a player that they could meet again in the last 16 in just a few months’ time.

England: (4-3-3) Earps – Bronze, Williamson, Morgan, Carter (Park 84) – Stanway, Walsh, Toone (Daly 60) -Kelly, Russo, Hemp (James 27). Subs not used: Roebuck, Hampton, Le Tissier, Wubben-Moy, Charles, Nobbs, Coombs, Robinson, Parker


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