It has already been an action-packed week in the world of international football.
Phil Neville’s England women’s side took advantage of a dominant performance over Wales to qualify for next year’s World Cup. They did so with a 0-3 win in Newport. Neville then presented seven of his squad players with their full debuts, as the Lionesses travelled to Kazakhstan for their final qualifier. Knowing nothing was riding on the result, they romped to a 0-6 win. One of the game’s debutants was Everton’s Gabby George – cousin of a certain Jesse Lingard. Small world.
Moving from the women to the men, Gareth Southgate was forced to make a few changes to his squad. Raheem Sterling left due to a back injury, despite expressing that he wished he had been available. Southgate’s favourite student, Adam Lallana, returned to Liverpool just one day after joining up with England, due to a groin injury. The former Southampton man is one of the Three Lions’ biggest England fans. He will have to wait a little longer for his return to international football. With two attackers gone, Southgate decided his best move was to add a fourth goalkeeper to the squad. In came Fulham’s uncapped Marcus Bettinelli. The England manager also invited Dominic Solanke to train, but not join, with the senior team. He will remain with the u-21s.
Moving away from England, a bizarre fall-out in the Denmark Football Association, means Denmark will this week face Wales, in their UEFA Nations League opener, without their manager. The Association [DBU]’s contract with the men’s national team has expired, and salaries have been stalled. Therefore, Denmark’s squad to face the likes of Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey has a combined total of zero caps. The squad includes players from Denmark’s third-tier and lower. Even some futsal players have been called up. San Marino and Gibraltar are expected to be the losers this week; we could see Denmark concede a half-dozen, too.
England’s first opponents, Spain, will have to do without striker Diego Costa, who has left the squad through the imminent arrival of his second child, back home in Madrid. It leaves Spain short on strikers, as are England. The two sides have only three each, so we may see a crowded midfield when the two sides meet at Wembley on Saturday.
Meanwhile, Switzerland, who England face on Tuesday 11th, have left some senior players out of their squad. These include striker Josip Drmić and midfielders Blerim Džemaili and Valon Behrami. The former is a former star at West Ham and Watford. Vladimir Petković’s Switzerland are ranked just two places below England, and one place above Spain. Before facing England, they host Iceland in the Nations League.
England’s youth squads have had a much less consistent year than their record-breaking last. The first of four youth tournaments began, right here, in England. The men’s u-17 Euros. Walsall, Rotherham, Chesterfield, Loughborough and Burton all hosted matches, as England reached the semi-finals. Victories over Israel, Italy and Norway had got England this far, but a 0-0 draw with the Netherlands was followed by penalty heartache, as The Three Lions went home, 5-6 on spotkicks.
Next came the women’s version, at the same level. John Griffiths’ side were cruelly denied an opening win as Poland equalised at 2-2 in stoppage-time. It got worse for England as they lost 2-1 to Spain. But they made it out the group in their final game. Ebony Salmon hit a hat-trick as The Young Lionesses thrashed Italy 4-0. The tournament ended in devastation though, as England crashed out at the semis with an 8-0 defeat to Germany. The third-place play-off was no better, as Griffiths’ side lost 2-1 to Finland. The girls, unfortunately, couldn’t celebrate being finalists. But to be semi-finalists is still a huge achievement.
Next came the men’s u-19 Euros. England were the defending champions, having stormed to victory in Georgia, last summer. Ryan Sessegnon and Mason Mount had been England’s heroes. However, this year’s edition was marred by clubs’ reluctance to send players to the tournament. Sessegnon, Phil Foden and Callum Hudson-Odoi all missed out. The players that did go put up a fight. They came from behind to beat Turkey 3-2 in a thrilling opener, before struggling hugely in a disappointing 1-1 draw with Ukraine. France were next, fresh off the back of a 5-0 win over Turkey. Paul Simpson’s side never got going, and lost 5-0, too. They were out in third-place in their group. But they faced one more match – a tie with the other third-placed side, Norway, for a spot at next year’s U-20s World Cup, which England also hold the title for. It wasn’t to be, as three late goals helped Norway to a 3-0 win. Foden, Sessegnon and Mount won’t get the chance to win the World Cup… until senior level, at least.
Finally, England Young Lionesses at u-20 level travelled to France for the World Cup. England faced a tough test against defending champions North Korea, first of all. They came away with a great 3-1 victory, before quickly focusing on their next tie – against Brazil. Ariadina broke English hearts in stoppage-time with an equaliser. It ended 1-1. Mexico, who had beaten Brazil, were next. 1-0 down at the break, England didn’t panic. Instead, they scored six second-half goals to turn the game on its head, win 6-1, and top the group. Eventual top-scorer Georgia Stanway hit a double in the quarter-final, to send England past the Netherlands, 2-1. The fairy-tale journey ended with defeat to Japan in the semi-final. But, there was more to come. Stanway scored her sixth, and final, goal in the Bronze medal match against hosts France. The match went to penalties, where Georgia Allen scored the decisive kick for England. The Young Lionesses finished third in France – a superb achievement.
Things haven’t been as easy this year. But England has had some success. Hopefully, this week’s double-header can see Gareth Southgate’s men continue their World Cup form, and take inspiration from the success that the Young Lions are having, and that the Lionesses are enjoying at every level.