by Dom Smith
England’s quarter-final against Spain will be the biggest game of their lives for a number of the Lionesses. That’s certainly the case for Ella Toone. The 22-year-old Manchester United attacker came off the bench against Northern Ireland to make a real impact in the final group match. She feels that England are ready for the knockouts.
She and England were excellent in the 5–0 win over Kenny Shiels’s Northern Ireland. She told EnglandFootball.org after the match: “It was amazing. It was a great performance again from the girls. It was nice to come on and make an impact with Alessia.”
Alessia Russo came on at half time along with United teammate Toone. Russo replaced Ellen White up front, and scored twice in her first nine minutes on the pitch to further assert herself as a super sub, and to wrap up the three points for England.Embed from Getty Images
“I think that’s the job of substitutes: to come on and impact that game”, said Toone. “I think we’ve done that in all three games. We went on and just enjoyed ourselves. Alessia got two goals, which is amazing.”
Fran Kirby has been excellent in the tournament, and finally got the moment of personal adulation she deserved, after bending England’s opener into the top corner.
Toone called it an “unbelievable goal”. She added: “We see that all the time from Fran in the WSL. We know what she’s about and the talent that she has. For me, she’s amazing to look up to. She’s been amazing in this tournament so far, and obviously we want her to keep scoring goals like that.” Kirby has been keeping Toone out of the starting lineup in the No 10 position, and has a goal and three assists to her name already.
Ahead of the Spain clash, Toone was asked what England’s biggest strength is. “I think our togetherness — and our believe as a team and our believe in ourselves and each other. We’re connecting really well off the pitch, and it obviously helps when we step out onto the pitch. We want to play for each other, and play for the badge and make the nation proud. Having our home crowd as well helps us massively, and we’re very grateful for them.”Embed from Getty Images
One of England’s other assets has been their ability to ramp up pressure late on, showing unmatched levels of fitness and a rampant appetite for goals. Rachel Daly told EnglandFootball.org: “We’re prepared for that. We play regularly, week in week out, with our clubs at the highest level. Everyone is playing regularly. Our fitness is maintained throughout the whole year, and we’re in a really good place in terms of fitness levels and energy. It’s exciting to get ready for the quarters.”
Lauren Hemp spoke to the media on Monday. She admitted there would be nerves before the Spain clash in Brighton, but that the “overriding feeling is excitement.”
“I’ve got a lot of respect for them”, she said about the Spanish side. “We know what they’re like, and we’re going to make sure we’re the best-prepared team.
“We know they’ve got a lot of threats, but we also know there’s a lot of opportunities to exploit.”
If England can exploit those opportunities, they could be looking at a semi-final between either Sweden or Belgium at Bramall Lane on Tuesday next week.