Sub-edited by Samuel Owens
World number four England’s impressive 15-game winning run came to an end against world number 28 Czech Republic. It was a surprise, as on paper, the Czechs were less of a threat than the US, who were beaten by the Lionesses on Friday in what looked like a serious bid to clinch the status of favourites approaching the 2023 World Cup.Embed from Getty Images
England overcame the difficult test of facing the World Champions and world number one team, and they may have expected a much easier night in Brighton, against Czech Republic. However, it was a frustrating show for the home crowd, hopeful to watch goals, as England were held to a 0-0 draw by an organised side, who defended well and kept them goalless only for the second time in 24 games under boss Sarina Wiegman.
England hit the woodwork twice and they enjoyed the majority of possession for the full duration of the game, but they failed to create many chances. Czech Republic goalkeeper Olivie Lukasova had a relatively quiet night and only had to pull off five saves. Wiegman said she expected a similar scenario, with Czech Republic defending in mass and being difficult to break down. It was far from the ideal free-flowing performance, as a lack of creativity and speed was evident in midfield. A clear step back after a statement win against the United States.
However, this draw might serve as a learning moment for Wiegman’s players, who faced a team which played in a very different style to the highly competitive US side and the competition faced in the Women’s Euro. Known for their deep style and the high amount of players behind the ball, Czech Republic offered a test to the Lionesses, highlighting a significant weakness in breaking down tight spaces and finding the free player inside the box. The end of a winning run is never a happy moment, but this one perhaps came at the perfect time. England know they can beat the top sides, this will not break their confidence and will give them a chance to improve their play even more.
Chelsea forward Lauren James tried to make the most of her first England start, by finding space on the left-hand side within four minutes. She dribbled Petra Bertholdova and was unlucky in having the shot bounced off the nearest post.
James was one of the best players in England’s difficult first half, where they struggled to find spaces and were goalless. Wiegman spent some kind words for her debutant after the game, saying: “She was very enjoyable to watch and I think she had a good debut”. However, she will have been far less pleased with the team’s performance, with very slow play and a lack of creativity in the first 45 minutes.
Following the win on Friday, Wiegman opted to keep Euro 2022 top scorer Beth Mead on the bench, with Lauren Hemp filling in as a number nine. Manchester United forward Alessia Russo missed the double-header through injury, and with Ellen White’s retirement, it was the perfect occasion to experiment a different option up front. However, the boss soon went back on her steps, with Mead coming in for the second half in place of Chloe Kelly.Embed from Getty Images
Mead came very close to scoring, with the 21,222 of the Amex cheering on as the ball looked to go in, but the shot again was rebounded off the post. In coordination with the start of a Mexican wave in the grandstands, the crowd erupted, but the ball stayed off the line, with Fran Kirby coming ever so close to getting the ideal tap-in.
Mead tried her best to get in the scoresheet after she was met by an accurate pass in between the lines from Alex Greenwood at the 82nd minute. She was put face to face with Lukasova but was denied. The goalkeeper also left her mark by tipping Kirby’s long-range effort just four minutes later.
England kept the pressure on in the final minutes, but failed to build an organised attempt and went winless for the first time since a 0-0 against Spain, in February.
In turn, Czech Republic executed their game plan to perfection, clinching a draw against a top side that will feel like a win. They extended their unbeaten run to four games and tested themselves against a championship-winning side. Karel Rada’s team didn’t feature in the Euros and will not take part in the 2023 World Cup, but this result will give them plenty of positives to take on. Defending was on point and at times they looked sharp on the counterattack. The biggest occasion came at minute 40 when Andrea Staskova picked up the ball following a winning tackle from Tereza Krejcirikova in England’s final third. The Sevilla striker, who was coming off a hat-trick against Hungary on Friday, was free to strike but took a touch too many, allowing Keira Walsh to brilliantly recover and block the shot.Embed from Getty Images
Important milestones were reached by Lucy Bronze, with her 100th cap, nine years after her debut. The Barcelona right-back is only the 13th player in the history of the national team to become a centurion, as she targets Eniola Aluko and Rachel Unitt, who are tied in 11th place with 102 appearances. Bronze also expressed some disappointment after the game, saying: “When you are European Champions you have to win games like that. We knew they were going to be tough opposition, but it was not our day today.”
21-year-old Esme Morgan enjoyed her Lionesses debut, coming on at the 62nd minute for Millie Bright.
England’s preparation for the World Cup will continue in November, with friendlies at home against Japan on November, 11 and Norway on November, 15. Both teams are previous FIFA World Cup winners, as England prepare for the challenge of bringing home their first title in Australia and New Zealand.