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Home   /   Serian Weigman’s return to the Amex may have marked her biggest concern for World Cup hopes

by Ashley Adamson-Edwards

Sub-edited by Isaac Dodshon

England’s goalless draw against Czech Republic could have shown their biggest weakness since the start of their 24-game unbeaten run.

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The Lioness’s return to Brighton and Hove Albion’s Amex Stadium following two wins in the build-up to their Euro 2022 success at the Seagulls’ ground marked them as favourites prior to the match, however, Serina Wiegman’s side hardly replicated those occasions.

From the moment flames erupted along the side-line of the Amex East stand to kick-off the game, the Czech’s defensive shape simply refused to budge. There was a reason Wiegman switched out Kelly for Beth Mead at half-time. A reason she and the 21,222 spectators were evidently made aware of throughout the fixture, which was the fact that England simply couldn’t break down the opposition. No matter the chance, the compact Czech’s were always eventually there to snuff out the danger.

Take Lauren James hitting the post for example. The 21-year-old made her first international start on Tuesday and was by far England’s standout player. As a left-winger, the pace, strength and confidence got the better of Eliska Sonntagova several times. In the first half, James picked the ball up just outside the oppositions box on the left-flank. With a drop of the shoulder and dart to the by-line, James skipped past Sonntagova and powered a shot towards the near post. Plenty of England shirts were ready and waiting for the rebound, eager to open the game, but the sheer number of Czech players in their box smothered the chance.

On paper, England did dominate the travelling opposition. A starting midfield of Keira Walsh, Fran Kirby and Ella Toone gave the Three Lions 71% of the possession. Furthermore, an attack of Laura Hemp, scorer of the opening goal against USA last week, Lauren James and Chloe Kelly produced 17 shots to Czech Republic’s six. Within those 17 England attempts though, only five were on target.

In another instance of the first-half, Lucy Bronze’s cross found the head of Hemp at the far post with the ball narrowly going wide. It was a strong chance but had there not been four defenders that Bronze had to navigate the ball around whilst setting up her former Manchester City teammate, Hemp might have performed better.

After half-time, the same problem persisted. The substitution of Mead for Kelly arguably changed the game for England as the Arsenal winger’s pace and creativity injected a new lease of life into the team. After a previous chance to score whilst taking the ball around the goalkeeper, Hemp tucked Mead one-on-one with Olive Lukasova. Options displayed on her left, but the Euro 2022 top scorer had other ideas. A subtle dink of the ball then seemed to have finally set the crowd alight had it not hit the far post. Kirby then darted across for the rebound but once more, the swarm of Czech defenders kept England at bay.

Whilst it’s only fair to praise the opposition for their defensive rigidness and willingness to hang on in there, England need to be held accountable. Too often, a period of indecision or reluctancy to shoot hindered the small-time frame available. Whilst they came away with the majority of shots, fans quickly became impatient with their constant need to shout ‘shoot’ at a player positioned outside the box.

The Euro 2022 victory has given a lot of credit as a footballing nation and rightfully so. The win against USA last week once again pointed them towards that infamous first World Cup waiting in August next year. But at that tournament, a failure to break down a defensively-sound styled team could hurt them, significantly. Luckily for Wiegman though, there’s still plenty of time to prepare.

“We have to be uncomfortable sometimes,” said Wiegman to the Telegraph following only her second ever goalless England match. “Today, in part of the game, being in-possession, with all that tight space and not creating very many chances, that was uncomfortable. We’ll learn from this.”

Perhaps a player who can help her side learn and develop from Tuesday’s failure, is Lucy Bronze. Signed from Manchester City to Barcelona in the summer, Bronze put on a standout performance against Czech Republic whilst earning her 100th international cap.

As a fan favourite, after getting back up from a knock picked up at the Amex, Bronze was met with a heart-warming round of applause from the crowd. With the stadium lit up with a sea of phone torches, Bronze had the effect of creating a certain buzz in the stands whenever involved with play.

Another bright spark for England fans, was the performance of Demi Stokes. Born in 1991, Stokes is about to reach the peak of her career at Manchester City as a versatile full-back. Against the Czech’s. Stokes was never afraid of a tackle, often bringing them down in the process of regaining possession.

England have ended this friendly round with not quite the 12 goals scored against Austria and Luxembourg at the start of September. However, the win last week, was one they haven’t experienced in over five and a half years. A victory against the worlds categorically best team should put them in good stead for their next games against Japan and Norway in November.

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April 2024