SheBelieves Cup 2020: England v Spain

11th March 2020

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Sam Hodde

Coming off of a win from Sunday’s game against Japan, England supporters were hopeful that the Lionesses would end their SheBelieves campaign on a high.

 

With a more convincing penultimate performance, the Lionesses would be looking to achieve the same in their final fixture against Spain. With Spain laying second in the table, and both England and Spain having three points each, the winner of this match was looking likely to place second, with Japan and USA still to play the final game. Realistically with it looking unlikely that they would defend the title, a silver ranking would leave the Lionesses with a good feeling before heading home.

True to his word, Phil Neville made eight changes to his starting line-up. Captain Steph Houghton and midfielder Keira Walsh being rested, meant a start for Abbie McManus, and a mix up in the middle. Leah Williamson moving forward to play alongside captain for the night Jill Scott. Jordan Nobbs, Nikita Parris and Toni Duggan sitting just behind goal scorer Ellen White, who alone is leading the line. Beth England and standout player Lauren Hemp both out of the squad for the final game with injury and illness respectively.

For Spain, seven changes to their line-up, with the very dangerous Jennifer Hermoso surprisingly starting on the bench. Top goal scorer of the tournament Lucia Garcia starting up front. Looking at Spain’s performances, they have certainly impressed. Keeping the USWNT at bay until the bitter end and somewhat unexpectedly giving as good as they got, the Lionesses needed to approach this game with a headstrong mentality and a pressing momentum. With temperatures soaring in Texas, at 5:15pm, the first of the final game was underway.

Spain began to press very early with Garcia putting Carly Telford under pressure in the first minute. But the Lionesses soon turned it around with a string of chances throughout the first half. The first big threatening play came from Parris, whose strong run, finished with a naughty nutmeg, couldn’t connect a ball to teammate. By 15 minutes, the Lionesses had another go, Rachel Daly’s class touch led to a quick flick on from Jill Scott into the path of White. White unfortunately gets too much on it and sends it over the bar.

Spain did manage to find a few little passages to threaten, most notably a ball over the head of both centre backs looking for Garcia, yet nothing coming of it. The Lionesses pushing again with some very demanding runs from Parris, Nobbs and White, saw England find a hopeful rhythm for the most part of the first 45. Around the half an hour mark, a characteristic Williamson – Nobbs link up, saw Nobbs feed a ball into White. White’s shot is saved and comes out to Parris, the rebound again blocked. A very good chance for England. The Lionesses certainly looked to be the stronger side at the end of the first half and should have converted those chances to open the score line, but as it stood, at half time the match was goalless.

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Getty Images

With Spain coming into the second half on the back foot, changes needed to be made. A triple change of Putellas, Corredera and Cardona, for Sosa, Ouahabi and Caldentey, saw them start with a much more experienced feel. For England, Houghton replacing Bright for the final 45. The Spanish changes certainly made an impact, with a sneaky run down the right getting the better of Daly threatening within five minutes of the restart. Telford not having much to do in the first half was now being heavily tested, Spain hammering their attacks, warning the English back four.

A lapse of concentration from Duggan meant Spain were almost able to capitalise, taking out McManus and Houghton, Telford’s mighty save kept the score line level. A wake-up call for the Lionesses. With substitutes peppered throughout for both sides, it was youngsters Chloe Kelly and debutant Alessia Russo that ended up shaking things up for England at 70 minutes. A sparkling first minute for Kelly saw her win and direct in a dangerous corner, the rebound returning to her, but possibly rash in her decision, she placed her shot wide. A flash of quality for the Lionesses in the second half.

Spain continued to press hard, drawing England back into their own half for much of the remainder of the game, playing now as we had expected in the first half. At 83 minutes another Spanish attack went out for a corner. Perfect delivery in, perfect head to the ball. Telford no chance. Putellas put Spain ahead with under ten minutes to go. One last go at either end, with Garcia whizzing one wide of Telford, and Parris getting a foot to Kelly’s free-kick, but neither managing to get it over the line. The final whistle blew, England – nil, Spain – 1.

A pleasing first half set the Lionesses in good stead, there was confidence and creativity up front, and solidarity at the back, with Spain not even managing a shot on goal. Excellent long passes flying from Williamson and Bright, and a relentless work rate shown by White and Parris. England were perhaps unfortunate not to have scored, yet they have the quality to finish those chances and they must execute this.

The Spanish half time team talk, along with their power from the bench, saw them restart as a completely different team. England seemingly lured into a false sense of security very much found themselves on the back foot and panicked. A few careless mistakes and some sloppy passes and Spain were able to amp up the pressure with ease. Yet even so, there were individual performances that excelled. McManus made a number of timely challenges that saved the outstanding Telford from having to work harder than she already was. Kelly and Russo’s arrival saw the hunger of two players determined to make difference, and this was noted.

It is worth mentioning that the officiating of this game was questionable at certain points. The referee pulled back play and blew up a number of times cutting short the advantage for both sides. Parris in particular suffered because of this. Yellow cards came out far too quickly for challenges that were fair, and at one point Greenwood’s set piece was called up for no apparent reason.

But in spite of this, the Lionesses performance should have been enough to at least get on the scoresheet. Neville’s tactics perhaps once again questionable, with Spain ending with a more experienced team, and England finishing with a lesser one. But credit to Spain, they brought out the big guns and it paid off.

A bitter end to a disappointing campaign for the Lionesses, but some big individual performances to applaud. Now calls the time to regroup and refocus. We have the tools, let’s use them.