“We’re in a very different position to the last time we faced Canada.” Lucy Bronze oozes confidence as she speaks to EnglandFootball.org on her long-awaited England return.
Before tonight she was yet to feature during the Sarina Wiegman regime, but says she can already see signs that the Lionesses are improving under the Dutch coach. But whatever Bronze says, England needed to show that they had improved. They did that as they drew with Olympic champions Canada in their Arnold Clark Cup opener at the Riverside Stadium in Middlesbrough.
It was ten months ago that England were a bit too friendly in a friendly against the same opponents, conceding two goals from defensive howlers which allowed the visitors to leave Stoke-on-Trent with a 2–0 win that had been gifted to them.Embed from Getty Images
Bronze feels a lot has changed in those ten months. “We’ve changed the manager. It was a lot of things going on at that time. But now Sarina has been in a lot longer, a lot more of the girls have been settled in the squad now consistently. As a team, we’re in a really good place in that respect. Canada’s preparation for the Olympics was obviously different. The difference between going into the Olympics against a team in a prep phase compared to Olympics champions is a different dynamic. We’re very aware of how good a team Canada are. But we know we’ve got the players to go out and match them.”
And match them they did. It was an England performance which started with the sort of invention and pace that all Wiegman England displays seem to begin with. The difference was that England were now playing the Olympic champions, not the likes of Latvia or Luxembourg.
Lauren Hemp was a thorn in Canada’s side throughout the first period. That drop-of-the-shoulder and dart outside and in behind was a move she must have tried and managed at least five times. Canada didn’t know what to do to stop her. Bev Priestman’s side were only thankful that her crosses weren’t of quite the same quality.
After Deanne Rose had lashed over from a Canada corner, England took control of a first half they utterly dominated. Goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan was fortunate a sloppy pass went unpunished as captain Leah Williamson fired just wide of the target from outside the area.Embed from Getty Images
It wasn’t long before England did make their possession pay. Alex Greenwood found beautiful shape on her delivery into the box from a short corner. Sheridan punched clear, but only as far as centre-back Millie Bright. The Chelsea player had never scored for England before Wiegman came along but has found her striking stride in recent internationals. She cut across the dropping ball expertly, volleying precisely into the unguarded bottom-left corner.
England had found a goal just when they looked likely to score. Making dominance count is vital ahead of the Euros. Alessia Russo, Ella Toone and Lauren Hemp all missed presentable chances as England looked for that vital second goal. They didn’t find it before the break.
But when the teams resumed play, it soon became clear that Priestman had injected impetus into Canada. They returned from the dressing room less sluggish and soon found their reward. They penned England into their own half for long periods, and then with a rare chance on the counterattack, they pounced.
PSG’s Ashley Lawrence drove forward with intent. She fed her club teammate Jordyn Huitema, who in turn slipped in the unmarked Janine Beckie of Manchester City. Beckie cut onto her left, and curled the ball beautifully into the top corner. It was a world-class goal from an excellent player. Canada were level.Embed from Getty Images
Within a minute or so, England found their first decent chance since the break. Keira Walsh floated a delightful ball in behind, spotting the run of her City teammate Lauren Hemp. Hemp ran into the green space ahead of her, eventually forcing a strong parry from Sheridan. But it wasn’t a sign of things to come. Just as England had been the better side in the first half, Canada were stronger in the second. Their passing was calmer, their decision-making smarter.
Substitute Nichelle Prince squandered a chance to win the game when she only found Mary Earps’s midriff from Jessie Fleming’s through-ball. In the end, a 1–1 draw felt a fair reflection of proceedings.
The Arnold Clark Cup’s first day was a reminder of just how evenly-matched its four teams are, with both games ending 1–1. England must up the ante if they’re to be crowned winners of the inaugural edition. Spain on Sunday is next. It doesn’t get any easier.