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Home   /   England’s impressive winning streak ends as Czech Republic cause frustration in Brighton

Sub-edited by Will Elvin

It has become somewhat of an anomaly for England to come away from a game – no matter the importance – without a goal. The Lionesses have scored 120 of them since Sarina Wiegman took over as manager last September, but the resilient defence of underdogs Czech Republic prevented that mind-boggling tally from rising further on Tuesday evening. 

This was the first time Wiegman’s squad failed to score in a match since February – when they were held to a 0-0 draw by European rivals Spain in the Arnold Clark Cup. The team looked fairly different back then, but one constant has always been now-Barcelona star Lucy Bronze, who will provide a professional and consistent performance at any given opportunity. 

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When Bronze was just 20 years-old she was told that she would never play professional football past the age of 27 due to a severe knee issue. But, on Tuesday night, she earned her 100th cap for the Lionesses against all the odds. 

The full-back has three Champions League titles and three Women’s Super League titles to her name – you’d perhaps expect a player of this calibre to reach the century milestone with no problem. But, on Tuesday the Barcelona defender admitted that it wasn’t even a consideration in the early stages of her career. Joining the likes of former teammate Alex Scott, Fara Williams and Jill Scott in the ‘100 club’ was just a pipe dream – not anymore. 

Bronze was arguably one of England’s most creative players on a night where Czech Republic allowed few goalscoring opportunities, driving forward to open pockets of space for the attacking trio of Lauren Hemp, Chloe Kelly and Lauren James to run into. 

James marked her full England debut with a dazzling performance on the left wing. Although she didn’t see too much of the ball – with the Lionesses preferring to play through the middle for much of the clash – she made an impact whenever given the chance, playing with great composure and a noticeable desire to play the ball forward at any opportunity. It wasn’t such a good evening for her brother, Reece James, however, as he hobbled off the San Siro pitch with what appeared to be a knee injury during Chelsea’s Champions League clash with AC Milan, potentially putting his World Cup hopes in doubt. 

But, for any current Lioness, the dream of securing a place on the plane to Australia and New Zealand is still well and truly alive with the 2023 World Cup just eight months away. 

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One person eyeing a place in the squad is 21-year-old Esme Morgan, who was introduced in the 62nd minute to make her England debut. She received a huge ovation from the home supporters as well as a touching message of support from her mum in the stands, who tweeted that she was “So very proud” of the monumental achievement. 

England still have plenty of time to prepare for the highly-anticipated tournament, but Wiegman still believes that there is plenty to improve on after a ‘disappointing’ display in Sussex. 

After the game, she said: “We’re absolutely disappointed because we think we could have won. We knew Czech was a very tough opponent, very physical and direct. 

“We just had to do a little better I think, we had a couple of chances. 

“First half we hit the post, second half we had three opportunities to score a goal and we didn’t. For us a very good learning moment.” 

Brighton holds an element of sentimental value for Wiegman and the Lionesses. It is where they thumped Norway 8-0 during the Euro 2022 group stages and where they went on to narrowly defeat Spain in the quarter-finals. But, Tuesday night will be one to forget. 

The fact that a Mexican wave began to ripple through the crowd of 21,222 attendees midway through the second half says it all. 

England lacked a cutting edge in front of goal with preferred striker Hemp given few opportunities. The Manchester City winger was moved slightly out of position for the clash, but she failed to make an impact on this occasion. 

The Lionesses are still adapting to life without veteran striker Ellen White, who retired from professional football after the Euros. Alessia Russo has since become Wiegman’s first choice number nine, but she was forced to withdraw from the squad prior to Friday’s clash with the USA after picking up an injury. 

Without Russo, England lacked any attacking threat. It was an unexpected affair following last week’s 2-1 victory over the World Champions, especially given the amount of chances that were wasted. 

Just three minutes into the game, James came agonisingly close to a debut goal as her strike from close range ricocheted off the post before rolling behind for a goal kick. 

The introduction of Beth Mead at half time dramatically upped the intensity, which was expected given her incredible form both during the Euros and for Arsenal in the Women’s Super League. 

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But, England failed to get anything from the game with the best goalscoring opportunity falling in the 58th minute. Mead carried the ball down the right wing before cutting into the box and setting the ball across the goal. A goal line scramble then ensued, with both Fran Kirby and Ella Toone desperately trying to tap the ball into the back of the net, almost reminiscent of Kelly’s iconic winning goal in the Euro 2022 final against Germany. But, neither could direct the ball towards goal and Czech Republic scrambled it away. 

Each player will now return to their respective clubs for a short spell of three weeks before another international break which will see England travel to Spain to take on Japan and Norway. 

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