by Dom Smith — at Elland Road
England thrashed the Netherlands in their best performance under Sarina Wiegman
Let’s have a laugh. Let’s imagine a game between England and the Netherlands where England have a Dutch manager and the Dutch have an English manager. Imagine England play in the orange of the Oranje and the Netherlands play in England white. Now let’s stop having a laugh and make this game a reality.
And so that’s what the powers that be did. O how well it worked out for England.
Only in their triumphant Arnold Clark Cup campaign have England tested themselves against this calibre of opposition. When Sherida Spitse was asked yesterday to hark back to her time under Sarina Wiegman’s management on the way to Euro 2017 silverware, she was asked to describe what Wiegman is like when she loses.
England are yet to experience defeat under their Dutch manager, and Spitse smiled wryly as she replied: “You will see [that] she doesn’t like losing tomorrow.”Embed from Getty Images
The 32-year-old can joke all she likes. This was her 200th cap for the Netherlands — a tally which the members of this young England team can only dream of. Her manager spoke glowingly about her yesterday, admitting that she finds it hard when her teammates do not set standards as high as hers.
Her high standards paid dividends midway through a half which the Dutch had started well. From her gorgeous, flighted, lofted, calved corner from the right, Lieke Martens rose highest to power a header past Mary Earps to give the Dutch the lead in front of a boisterous 19,000-strong Elland Road crowd.
England were not sluggish at this point, but neither were they quite at the level fans have come to expect from Wiegman’s Lionesses. And yet they say the best teams conjure up goals from nowhere and at times when they barely merit them. Minutes after Lucy Bronze hacked a cross way up into the stand, she was back on the right wing in a crossing position. She drifted the ball into the box, grimacing as she realised it hadn’t found its intended target. But over goalkeeper Sari van Veenendaal it sailed — and into the net it landed. Bronze shrugged half-embarrassed. A goal is a goal is a goal. Parity again.
Substitute Daniëlle van de Donk was always going to have a say in this match — even if she was a half-time substitute. The former Arsenal ace maneuvored the ball so that Alex Greenwood’s mucky challenge would never lead her to the ball. Instead it led to a penalty, and a chance for Spitse to add to her assist on her special night.
The Netherlands’ No 8 strolled up but failed to hit the target as her missed effort struck the post on its way past the post. With Mary Earps only just recomposed after celebrating the uncharacteristic miss, England darted down to the other end of the pitch and put themselves in the lead instead. Lauren Hemp’s sumptuous cross was clattered into the net by Beth Mead, another half-time entrant. A 21st England goal for a player with a quite sensational goalscoring touch for her country.Embed from Getty Images
“England is a top, top team”, Spitse had told EnglandFootball.org ahead of the match. Now the Lionesses had a lead to show for it too. And by now they were in total control of a surprisingly one-sided second 45.
The Lionesses, debuting their peculiar luminous orange away kit, almost forced Dominique Janssen into an own goal, but Van Veenendaal parried. With Ellen White out with Covid and Beth England selected to start as her deputy, Alessia Russo’s target off the bench was clear. She took the ball, shot, but behind for a corner it went.
The Netherlands are managed by Englishman Mark Parsons. He said of Wiegman yesterday: “I don’t know if it’s too smart of me to have succeeded someone like that.”
Perhaps he was right, because England turned a promising second half into their best under Wiegman so far, with Ella Toone and Lauren Hemp adding goals numbers three and four. Toone took Hemp’s overlap pass, turned in, and shot through the goalkeeper Van Veenendaal who should have done better. Then as England hammered on the door for a fourth, Hemp converted an outrageous front-on volley which flew high, then dipped, then flew past Van Veenendaal for number four.Embed from Getty Images
“WE WANT FIVE”, cried some greedy home fans enjoying their sunlit evening out. Gazza, Shearer and Euro 96 came into view. Until you remembered this parallel universe where England were in orange and the Netherlands in white.
On England went, past Euro 96 and up the gears into fifth. Russo did well to win the ball back after a scuffed shot. Mead then danced through and added goal 22 to her England tally. What a performer she’s been under Wiegman. 5–1.
“It’s never nice to miss a penalty, so I understand how she was probably feeling in that moment”, Fran Kirby told EnglandFootball.org after the match. “We knew we’d been let off with that moment and knew we had to step up from the first half. We were able to do that and create chances going forward.”
“We knew when we made changes that we would either stay the same or rise”, added Bronze. “I don’t think Holland had that as much as we did. We knew if we went on that we’d be able to grow into the game.”
Were the Netherlands precouppied by their rescheduled World Cup qualifier against Belarus next week? Will they be back with a vengeance by the Euros? Is England’s orange away strip a lucky omen? Or are England going to make this a summer to remember regardless of the colour of their kit?
By the end of next month we’ll know.