England’s youth teams were rampant in 2017, bringing home a glut of trophies and reaching many other finals and semifinals along the way. 2018 was a year where rather more tested talent came to fruition, with both the senior Three Lions and Lionesses enjoying some great memories.
England’s men reached only a second World Cup semifinal on foreign soil, and then overcame Croatia and Spain to reach the Nations League Finals. For the Lionesses, emphatic qualification for the World Cup was the task – a task they completed – whilst victories over France, Wales and Brazil all tasted nice.
So, how would 2019 turn out? Would it be a roaring success, or a washout in the lions’ den? The answer seems inconclusive. It was the kind of year that, statistically speaking, most years ought to be – an average one. It was a real mixed bag. Let’s delve into it and review the last 12 months’ offerings.
For Gareth Southgate’s side, it ended up proving as predictable a year as possible. With just two days to prepare for their Nations League semifinal tie with the Netherlands in June, because of Liverpool and Tottenham’s involvement in the Champions League, the Finals in Portugal were a bit of a washout. An extra-time defeat to the Netherlands in Guimarães hurt a great deal for a side that would have reached the final, but for Jesse Lingard’s offside toes.
That said, there was another pleasing penalty shoot-out victory over Switzerland in the Third-Place Playoff. Six England penalties, six successful spot-kicks, one from Jordan Pickford, and then a save by Pickford. It was a textbook shootout in the Iberian sun.
All of that was sandwiched by an unhelpfully easy qualification campaign. England scored 37 goals in just eight games, providing a huge average of almost five goals per game. There were 5-0, 6-0 and 7-0 victories over Eastern European sides years beyond their peak and probably at their lowest ebb. The great Bulgarian side of the mid-‘90s, for example, must have been tearing their hair out as they watched 2019’s iteration.
There was the odd wobble along the way. England went a goal down in Montenegro (although won 5-1) and against Kosovo in Southampton less than 35 seconds into the game, which is never a good sign, nor is conceding three on the night overall (although they won again, 5-3).
But the game to forget, and there was only one, was the trip to Prague in October. The Three Lions failed in their attempts to preserve a 10-year qualification unbeaten run, losing a dull game 2-1 from a winning position.
The side’s 1000th game, against Montenegro at Wembley, in November was a memorable occasion – not least because they won 7-0. The Nations League Finals and defeat to the Czechs represented the low points. Everything else had been frankly a stroll in the park.
The racist abuse that some England players received throughout the year is also to be noted. The players showed the utmost dignity when faced with these issues, but the authorities are now being scrutinised more than ever to not just note the events but take action to stop them altogether.
It was a year of two halves for the men’s U21s. A star-studded squad including Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Mason Mount, James Maddison and Tammy Abraham put together a European Championships campaign to forget, falling to defeats against France and Romania in Italy. A 3-3 draw with Croatia in San Marino to sign off completed a wretched time of it for Aidy Boothroyd’s side, highlighting the defensive frailties even more blatantly.
As summer became autumn, a whole generation of players grew that little bit too old for the England youth set-up, making it the senior men or nothing for the likes of Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Dominic Solanke and Abraham. It made way for an exciting group of U19s to move up to the highest level of youth football. Inspired by Phil Foden and Eddie Nketiah, they won four U21 Euro 2021 qualifiers in a row, beating Turkey, Kosovo, Austria and Albania.
There was a good second half of the year for Paul Simpson’s U20s, who beat Switzerland and thrashed Portugal amongst other results. But the year didn’t start well, with a cataclysmic attempt at retaining the Toulon trophy they had won three years consecutively. Losing to Japan, Portugal and Chile meant England were out, but they had one last fixture to play. And that of course was the Ninth-Place Playoff. Of course it was. A 4-0 win was incoming.
“I’m not going anywhere, they will have to carry me out”Aidy Boothroyd, England U21 Manager, responding to calls he should resign back in June
England’s U19s were in for similar disappointment, but this time in March. They failed to reach the summer’s U19 European Championships, the tournament they won in 2017. Defeats to Germany and France in the autumn rather dampened expectations of a team featuring Fiorentina’s Bobby Duncan, Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka and others. But November brought a bit of respite, with big wins over Luxembourg, Macedonia and Bosnia & Herzegovina in qualification for next year’s Euros in Northern Ireland.
The U18s, who have no FIFA or UEFA tournaments to compete in, had a good year by all accounts. Highlights for them were 5-2 wins against Poland and Russia and 1-1 draws against Spain and Brazil. Ian Foster’s side successfully went the whole year unbeaten.
2019 for the Young Lions at U17 level started with the European Championships in the Republic of Ireland in May. A 1-1 draw with France and 5-2 defeat to the eventual winners Holland put England out in the First Round, although there was a 3-1 win over Sweden to come. In September, Kevin Betsy’s boys won a friendly tournament, the Syrenka Cup. A 5-0 victory against Finland and 4-2 win over Austria helped England on their way, who secured the trophy with a penalty victory over the hosts Poland after a 2-2 draw.
The year drew itself to a close with two friendly tournaments in Pinatar, Spain and St George’s Park. This brought defeats against Germany and Denmark, but victory over the Czech Republic and draws against both Spain and the Germans offered more pleasing results.
Moving across to the women’s sides, it was truly a summer to remember for Phil Neville’s Lionesses, who captured the hearts and minds of young girls up and down the country, on their way to a fourth-place finish at the FIFA World Cup in France.
But it all started at the annual SheBelieves Cup tournament – a prestige round-robin competition between four top international sides, which takes place in the USA. This was where Neville got his first taste of management in March 2018, and he was back for more this year.
Beth Mead helped England to victory over Brazil in the opener, before a stunning volley from Megan Rapinoe put the USA ahead in the second game. But the world champions found themselves up against a determined beast in the Lionesses. They earned a deserved 2-2 draw.
In the final game, England knew victory over Japan would hand them the trophy. Neville caused huge controversy with a number of changes to the line-up. But it clearly worked as the Lionesses thrashed Asia’s best side 3-0 to win their first ever SheBelieves Cup trophy.
There were worrying defeats against Canada and New Zealand as preparations for the World Cup ramped up, but Neville’s side were able to turn it on when it truly mattered. A run of five straight victories started with a narrow win in their tournament opener against neighbours Scotland. Argentina, Japan, Cameroon and Norway were all suitably dispatched, with Lucy Bronze’s stunning drive in the quarterfinal against the Norwegians offering quite the lasting memory.
Ellen White has said since that she and England genuinely felt they were going to beat America in the semis and go on to reach the final. Things certainly did seem to be shaping up nicely for a bit of an upset. But on the day, the experience of Alex Morgan and those in red shone through a little stronger than England’s more modest stars. Another very close VAR call disallowed an Ellen White goal at a critical moment, Steph Houghton missed a vital penalty, and that was it. England were out.
Defeat to Sweden in the match for third place offered few signs that England wanted to be there. Because they didn’t. Why would they? Phil Neville has come in for some criticism since the World Cup – partly due to declaring the side lucky to have him, but partly because of his team’s poor form since they starred in France.
After a ridiculous match that England ought to have lost earned them a 3-3 draw in Belgium, there were back-to-back defeats to Norway and Brazil. A narrow victory in Portugal lifted the pressure a little but defeat at a packed Wembley in November’s big record-breaking game was another poor result and deserved defeat. Germany continue to be serial Wembley party-poopers for both the England men and women.
Leah Williamson’s first international goal may have spared a few blushes in the last of 20 games this year, as the Lionesses squirmed their way to a needlessly tight victory in the Czech Republic. 2020 offers the Olympic Games for Team GB, which Phil Neville will manage. His side may need a sprinkle of inspiration from the other British Isles if medals are to return home on GB necks.
2018 saw an FA review and the return of the women’s U21 side, to provide international football for players post-U20 World Cup with a genuine chance of playing future senior international football. 2019 saw them compete in three minor tournaments. The La Manga tournament in Murcia, Spain got off to a great start, with Charlie Wellings’ double sinking France. Norway conquered Wellings’ side in the second game, before the Young Lionesses, coached by Mo Marley, drew 1-1 with Sweden.
The Open Nordic Tournament in Sweden went rather better, with a stalemate against Norway followed up by two impressive three-goal wins over China and the Netherlands. Finally, and counterintuitively, Loughborough University then hosted the Nordic Tournament in late August and early September.
In the opener, Jesse Lingard’s cousin Gabrielle George got herself sent off, allowing Sweden to run riot and humiliate the Young Lionesses 5-0. Things didn’t get much better two days later, with another defeat – this time at the hands of the USA. England at least signed the tournament and the year off in style though, putting four past Norway in the sides’ third meeting in 148 days.
hours minutes seconds
Team GB compete at Tokyo 2020 Olympics in Women’s Football
With the U21s returning, the losers were those that made way. These were the U23s and U20s, making the next age-group down the U19s. The U20s will still compete at U20 Women’s World Cups, but won’t play at any other times.
For the U19s, January offered them the Algarve Tournament in Portugal. Although, they in turn didn’t offer the Algarve Tournament much, losing both of their two fixtures. Next came the La Manga tournament in Spain, where things didn’t really pick up much either. A 5-1 win over China in the second game was as good as it got because either side of that came losses to both the hosts and the Swiss.
St George’s Park then hosted the Elite Round of Euros qualification in April, with three games scheduled against Turkey, Sweden and Italy. England were only at this stage because of their performances in the round prior where, in 2018, they had hammered Malta 9-0, Croatia 8-0 and Slovakia 4-0. Thus, they hadn’t conceded a goal. That run continued, as Turkey were beaten 7-0, Sweden 4-0 and Italy 2-0.
The European Championships came, with England hot favourites. But like many of 2019’s youth tournaments, it disappointed from an England perspective. Germany and Spain got the better of England in their first two fixtures in Scotland. The Young Lionesses were out, but not before they beat Belgium 1-0.
Qualification for next year’s equivalent got underway soon after. It’s all going swimmingly well again, with 8-0, 3-0 and 6-0 wins over Cyprus, Belarus and Serbia, respectively, hyping up expectations once more.
It was a similar situation for the U17s, who also started their year with three Elite Round qualifiers for the Euros in the summer. They also turned on the style, seeing off Georgia, Hungary and Greece 8-0, 3-0 and 2-0 respectively. Clean-sheets don’t seem to be a problem for the Young Lionesses… in qualifiers at least.
The tournament itself got off to another catastrophic start though – Germany running riot 4-0. John Griffiths’ ladies picked themselves up and won two on the bounce against Austria and then the Netherlands. But Germany and Holland had both also racked up the six points England had earned. The Young Lionesses were out on goal-difference, thanks in no small part to that humbling on the opening day against the Germans.
Qualification for 2020’s edition in Sweden finds itself three game in as 2019 becomes 2020. England are continuing their form, thrashing Croatia, Bosnia and Belgium. Ten goals for. One against. Mighty close to another clean sweep of clean-sheets.
The high points of a rather more down-to-earth 365-days include the men’s U17’s Syrenka Cup success in Poland and the senior women winning their first SheBelieves Cup at the fourth time of asking.
Phil Neville and his Lionesses should also take immense credit for their brilliant showing at the World Cup, while Gareth Southgate’s Three Lions have shown they are one of the world’s most ruthless attacking sides.
2020 offers FIFA World Cups or UEFA European Championships for the U19 and U17 men and for the U20, U19 and U17 women. In addition, many of England’s senior Lionesses will compete for Team GB at the Tokyo Olympic Games. These, alongside the Three Lions’ endeavours at Euro 2020 make this coming year a gripping one. Are medals and trophies back in sight?