Ben Gilby’s Full International Round Up

SheBelieves Cup

Matchday One:

The 2020 competition got underway on Thursday in Orlando with an excellent 3-1 victory for Spain against Japan.

The Spanish took just eight minutes to get their opening goal. Marta Cardona worked her way down the right wing to put a ball into Jennifer Hermoso. Her effort eventually found its way into the net by Alexia Putellas.

Japan had a great chance to level six minutes later when Yuika Sagasawa had an effort saved by Lola Gollardo in the Spanish goal. After Spain wasted several opportunities to go further ahead, Japan punished them with an equaliser on the brink of half time. Riza Shimizu’s cross which was brilliantly volleyed in by Mana Iwabuchi.

After the break, Spain re-established their lead thanks to Lucia Garcia who rounded Yamashita in the Japanese goal and placed the ball into the empty net.

With twelve minutes left, the result was assured when Garcia again took the ball around Yamashita to complete a 3-1 victory in front of just over 7,700 spectators.

The second game of the double header saw World champions United States comfortably defeat the reigning She Believes Cup holders England in front of a boisterous crowd of 16,531.

The USA dominated the opening exchanges with the Lionesses not helping themselves when almost running into trouble on several occasions when trying to clear danger by playing out from the back.

Carly Telford made some excellent saves during America’s period of domination, with Millie Bright putting in important tackles and marshalling the defence well.

Crucially, England emerged unscathed on the scoresheet during the opening twenty minutes, but struggled to create many chances of their own. Although impressive off the ball, Ellen White was largely anonymous as an attacking threat.

England started well in the second half, forcing a corner. Yet eight minutes into the period, the USA took the lead thanks to a beautiful curling shot from Christen Press, who escaped from Steph Houghton’s laudable attempt to stop her and then capitalised on being allowed to run through by a Lioness defence who were way too slow in first spotting and then stopping the danger.

Three minutes later, it was 2-0, and again poor England defending was to blame. This time both Steph Houghton and Millie Bright were culpable as Lindsey Horan lofted a ball comfortably over the top with Carli Lloyd having way too much time to take the ball and slot it past Telford.

Immediately afterwards, Georgia Stanway played in Nikita Parris whose first touch was desperately disappointing and allowed Alyssa Naeher to easily smother. Jordan Nobbs put in a promising cameo which underlined the opinion of those who were surprised that she did not start the match. USA were comfortable in the remainder of the match. The Lionesses will be confident of victories in their remaining matches with Japan and Spain – but they would need to produce improved performances.

Matchday Two:

England played better in their second match against Japan, but despite the 1-0 win in New Jersey, it was a performance that still raised far too many questions about the progress of the Lionesses since the World Cup.

Phil Neville made several changes, notably Jordan Nobbs returning to midfield, with the FAWSL’s top English born top scorer Beth England coming in to lead the attack along with Everton’s Chloe Kelly.

With 19 year-old Lauren Hemp keeping her place in the team, it was the sort of youthful line-up that many have been calling for. After just three minutes, England came close. A fantastic run through from Hemp saw the first of several Japanese defensive howlers and the Norfolk born youngster got a shot away which was pushed wide for a corner.

Japan replied with a chance on nine minutes when Ellie Roebuck dived well to push behind Sugita’s effort.

Four minutes later, Beth England was played in by Chloe Kelly, but her shot was snaffled up by Ikeda. Truth be told, the Chelsea striker should have scored.

The Japanese succeeded in slowing the pace of the game significantly, and with the Lionesses seemingly reluctant to press and get into the faces of their opponents – tactics that were so successful for the Spanish in their opening match – the match degenerated to the sort of pace you would expect to see in a pre-season friendly, with a lack of urgency.

It took until just after the half hour mark for another chance to be fashioned when a magnificent break from Jordan Nobbs ended with a cheeky back-heel to Kelly. The Everton star played Beth England in beautifully but Ikeda saved well with her feet and Georgia Stanway blazed the follow-up over the bar.

Japan had the final effort of the first half when Mina Tanaka ran through and hit a shot from the right hand side of the box which Roebuck did well to push aside. Not surprisingly it was 0-0 at the break.

The pace didn’t pick up much after the break as the game became increasingly bogged down with little in the way of efforts on goal. Phil Neville rang the changes and brought on the old guard. Nikita Parris’ arrival brought some much needed pace down the wing. Within seconds of coming on, her run found Nobbs who crossed to Ellen White (on for Beth England), but her effort missed.

With seven minutes to go, another Japanese defensive calamity saw third sub Toni Duggan win the ball and put in a perfect cross to White who, with a trademark first time effort, rolled the ball into the net. England had won in front of 15,574 fans, but they are still far from convincing given the talent of the players available to them.

The Lionesses’ win kept them in the running to retain their SheBelieves title, but the United States late winner over Spain means it will be an uphill task.

Julie Ertz’s goal with three minutes remaining sees the hosts have one hand on the trophy and only a highly unlikely failure to beat Japan in the final game would bring about England’s slim hopes of winning.

Spain, so impressive in their opening 3-1 win over Japan will be absolutely devastated not to have earned a point from the game in which they had more possession than the World champions.

Carli Lloyd, playing in her home New Jersey territory had two excellent chances in the first half, but Sandra Panos in the Spanish goal did well to deny her both times.

Early in the second half, Rose Lavelle was unlucky with an effort that went narrowly over the bar and Sam Mewis’ effort looked bound for the top corner before Panos got across to claw it away.

Three minutes from the end came the decisive moment. After Lynn Williams was fouled, Christen Press’ free-kick found the head of Ertz to score the winner to the delight of a sell-out crowd of 26,500.

Photo: @USWNT

Matchday Three:

The United States guaranteed they would win the SheBelieves Cup after a 3-1 win over Japan, who will be desperately disappointed with their form in the tournament.

It took only seven minutes for the USA to take the lead. Lindsey Horan was fouled on the edge of the area. Megan Rapinoe’s free-kick curled over the wall and into the net. Rapinoe played a major part in the second goal some twenty minutes later. The American star played in Christen Press who put in a magnificent chip over Japanese keeper Ayaka Yamashita.

The Olympic hosts came out strongly in the opening period of the second half. Mana Iwabuchi’s drive was well held by Adrianna French in the USA goal. However, Iwabuchi had better luck in the fifty-eighth minute when her shot squeezed into the goal.

Japan pressed well for an equaliser which never came. The decisive movement came in the 83rd minute when Mallory Pugh’s corner found Lindsey Horan who added a third.

Defending champions England concluded their hugely disappointing campaign with a 2-1 defeat to Spain – a result which condemned the Lionesses to third place in the tournament.

The Spanish, who finish second in the final table had a sensational tournament, and Alexia Putellas’ header after she was given the freedom of the penalty area with seven minutes left condemned England to a seventh loss in eleven games.

It was another much changed line-up for the Lionesses, with Steph Houghton on the bench, Beth England seemingly having picked up a slight injury on a bumpy training pitch and Lauren Hemp unwell. Carly Telford returned in goal with Ellie Roebuck returning to the bench.

England created some good opportunities in the opening period with both Nikita Parris and Ellen White having chances, but the familiar recent story of not scoring when they are in the ascendency would return to haunt them.

In the second half, Spain grew noticeably in confidence and Carly Telford earned her corn by keeping England in the game. First, Ainhoa Moraza glided past Houghton and Abbie McManus but the Chelsea keeper denied her.

Putellas’ winner came when she rose to powerfully head Jenni Hermoso’s corner into the goal.

It was a disappointing end to a disappointing tournament for a very disappointing England side.

Photo: @Lionesses

Olympic Games Women’s Football Qualifying Finals

Asia First Leg:

Australia went a long way towards sealing their Olympic Games spot after sweeping aside Vietnam 5-0 in their first leg in front of an excellent crowd of 14,014 at Newcastle’s McDonald Jones Stadium.

Whilst the scoreline looks comprehensive at first glance, the truth was that it did not get anywhere close to emphasising the total dominance of the Matildas.

The first half saw Australia put in their best performance for some time with a slick, fast moving passing game causing their South East Asian opponents great problems. After ten minutes, the Matildas went ahead as she crept in unmarked behind the Vietnamese defence to head in Ellie Carpenter’s pin-point cross.

It was 2-0 after 27 minutes when Arsenal’s Caitlin Foord put in a cross which was nodded down by Emily van Egmond for Bristol City’s Chloe Logarzo to hit home.

Eleven minutes later, a fine piece of team play saw Chelsea’s Sam Kerr’s delightful back heel find Steph Catley to home town girl Emily van Egmond to add her recent fine run of goal scoring in international football to make it 3-0.

The second half saw Australia continue to dominate, but a combination of a clever Vietnamese offside trap (which caught their hosts out six times) and the Matildas being guilty of over-forcing matters led to the home side producing a far more disjointed showing.

It took until the 67th minute for a fourth Australian goal to come. Steph Catley and Emily van Egmond played a delightful 1-2 in for defender Clare Polkinghorne to score. With ten minutes left, it was 5-0 when the Matildas were awarded a very soft penalty as Hayley Raso went down in the box. Sam Kerr stepped up and smashed home from the spot to go into second place in the all-time Matildas scoring list – six behind Lisa de Vanna having played 67 fewer games for her country.

Second Leg:

Australia sealed their place in the Olympic Games with another dominant performance in Vietnam in a game played behind closed doors due to the Coronavirus outbreak.

The Matildas had 73% of the possession during the match and 625 passes compared to Vietnam’s 245. However, it was still a case of the side not quite hitting their peak in Cửa Ông.

Within five minutes, the Australians came close to taking the lead. Caitlin Foord drove in down the left to play in Sam Kerr, but her effort cannoned back off of the post.

Ten minutes later the Matildas were back in front. A great cross from Steph Catley on the left was met first time on the volley by Kerr. This fine strike was the Chelsea striker’s forty-second goal for her country – putting her clear in second place in Australia’s all-time top scorers’ chart.

On twenty-seven minutes it was 2-0 as Kerr found her way into the box and unselfishly squared the ball across the area for Everton’s Hayley Raso to comfortably side foot home.

Ten minutes before the break, there was yet another golden opportunity for the Matildas as Caitlin Foord was wrestled to the ground by Thị Tươi Phạm. Unusually it was Chloe Logarzo who stepped up to take the penalty. The Bristol City midfielder’s effort was excellently saved by Trần Thị Kim Thanh. It remained 2-0 at the break.

Thanh made another great save five minutes into the second half as she dived to the left to push away Allanna Kennedy’s free kick from outside of the area.

Kennedy was involved in the next significant action of the game five minutes later when her catastrophic attempt at a back pass fell nowhere near her goalkeeper Lydia Williams, allowing Huỳnh Như in to put in a beautiful long range lob over Williams. It was the first ever goal that Vietnam have scored against the Matildas in nine internationals dating back to 2008.

There was one final chance in the match, which fell to Sam Kerr with eighteen minutes late. She turned beautifully onto a ball in and hit a first time volley which was just wide.

In the end Australia were comfortable 2-1 winners in the night, and were victorious 7-1 on aggregate to progress to the Tokyo Olympic Games.

The other final qualifying tie between South Korea and China has been moved to April due to the Coronavirus outbreak.

 
Photo: @TheMatildas

Euro 2021 Qualifiers

In Group A, Russia moved into second place on 6th March with a comfortable 5-0 win over Kosovo in a match played in Wiesbaden, Germany.

An own goal in the opening minute from Fjolla Shala putting the Russians ahead set the tone for the match. Further strikes from Nelli Korovkina, Nadezhda Smirnova and Marina Fedorovna saw Russia give their qualifying hopes a major boost with a run of favourable fixtures ahead.

On 10th March, Slovenia remained in third, but closed in on Russia – behind them on just goal difference after a 3-0 success in Kosovo. Goals from Pamela Begic, Nina Pradenic and Ana Milovic renewed their qualification hopes.

Group B saw Bosnia Herzegovina rekindle their slim play-off hopes with a vital 1-0 win over winless Israel thanks to Milena Nikovic’s 64th minute strike on 5th March.

On the same day, Malta earned their first win of the qualifying campaign courtesy of a 2-1 success over winless Georgia. The islanders took the lead thanks to Rachel Cushieri on 17 minutes. Hayley Bugeja doubled the advantage early in the second half. Georgian hopes were raised when Khatia Tchkonia got a goal back with fourteen minutes left, but it was too little too late.

Bosnia Herzegovina earned another victory on 10th March – but it was far closer than they would have expected in Malta. Sofija Krajsumovic grabbed a hat-trick to put victory in sight, but two late Maltese goals from Emma Xuereb and Brenda Borg gave the Bosnians some worrying moments in the closing stages.

With no action in Group C over the past ten days, it is on to Group D where Poland comfortably dispatched Moldova 5-0 in front of 7,528 in Lubin. An Ewa Pajor hat-trick, plus goals from Aleksandra Sikora and Katarzyna Daleszcyzk set the Poles up for their trip to Azerbaijan four days later.

The outcome of that clash in Baku was another 5-0 success for the Poles which sent them to the top of the qualifying group on goal difference from Spain. Ewa Pajor grabbed another two goals as did Aleksandra Sikora. Agata Tarczynska completed the rout on the ninetieth minute mark.

Group E saw the two winless nations, Cyprus and Albania meet head-on in Larnaca. It was the Albanians who would be celebrating their maiden victory in the campaign, thanks to a 2-0 success. Megi Doci and Zelfie Bajramaj were on target.

There have been no games in Group F in this international window, but Serbia are back in second spot in Group G following a comprehensive 8-1 win over North Macedonia, albeit having played three games more than France who drop to third.

Allegra Poljak scored two goals in the opening eight minutes but to the Macedonian’s credit, Gentjana Rochi got one back on fourteen minutes. It remained 2-1 until the brink of half time when Tijana Filipovic struck the all-important third for the Serbs.

A spell of three goals in four minutes (Nevena Damjanovic, Filipovic adding her second, and one from Jelena Cankovic) saw Serbia surge to a 6-1 lead. Marija Radojicic and a second from Cankovic completed the rout.

Group H has not seen a ball kicked this time round, but in Group I, Republic of Ireland moved top of the group by a point from Germany, having played a game more following two wins in six days. Firstly, they recorded a 1-0 win over Greece at Tallaght Stadium in Dublin. Diane Caldwell’s goal just before half-time was enough. On the 11th March, they returned from Macedonia with a comfortable 3-0 win. Diane Caldwell, Katie McCabe and Denise O’Sullivan were on target.

Algarve Cup:

Seven countries travelled to Portugal to join the hosts in the annual tournament which guarantees each side three matches. Sadly, due to the ever worsening global situation with the Coronavirus, the final between Italy and Germany was cancelled after the Italians chose to pull out to fly home immediately to avoid being stranded in Portugal after concerns flights would not enter Italy for a period.

The Quarter-Final stage opened with a fascinating looking clash between Denmark and Norway. Pernille Harder, linked with a move to the Barclays WSL struck first for the Danes after seven minutes. However, the Norwegians, in ruthless form since the World Cup, levelled just six minutes later thanks to Elise Hove Thorsnes, just back from a W League season with Canberra United. With the game heading towards a penalty shoot-out decider, up stepped Synne Sofie Jensen three minutes into stoppage time to seal a 2-1 win for Norway.

Another tight game was played out between Germany and Sweden in front of an appreciative crowd of 800. Svenje Anette Huth’s goal just after the half-hour mark was the only difference between the two sides.

New Zealand gained a superb victory against an ever improving Belgium side. Olivia Chance’s strike after 37 minutes gave the White Ferns the lead. Just as they were ready to celebrate an excellent win, Chloe Velde levelled for the Belgians at the death. The Kiwis did well to come back from the disappointment to take a dramatic penalty shoot-out 7-6 after Sarah Wijnants missed her spot-kick.

There was disappointment for the hosts when Portugal were edged out 2-1 by Italy. Diana Silva scored after 34 minutes to give the hosts the lead, but the side who troubled the Lionesses during a pre-Christmas friendly were pegged back by the Italians, who had a highly creditable World Cup. Elena Linari levelled and, cruelly, four minutes into stoppage time, up stepped Christiana Girelli to put the Italians into the semi-finals.

Semi-Finals:

After four incredibly close quarter-finals, both semis were one-sided.

As expected, Italy strode purposefully past game New Zealand 3-0 thanks to goals from goal machine Christiana Girelli and others from fellow stars Barbara Bonasea and Elisa Bartoli.

It was Germany’s 4-0 win over Norway which really caught the eye, as many felt this would be a tense and dramatic clash against two of Europe’s best sides. It was anything but close, as a spell of two goals in six minutes in the first quarter of the game that made the difference. Lea Schuller got the scoreboard moving before Johanna Elsig added the second.  On the hour mark, Ingrid Engman’s own goal ended any faint hopes that the Norweigans had of making a comeback. Marina Hegering completed the rout with nineteen minutes to go.

Photo: @nff_landslag

Play-Off Rounds:

Stage one of the play-offs saw the quarter-final losers face off. World Cup bronze medallists Sweden went down to their second straight defeat in a cruel manner, to national rivals Denmark despite Lina Hurtig giving the Swedes an early lead. The Danes hit back with a goal from Stine Larsen after 56 minutes. Just as penalties looked like having to separate the sides, three minutes into stoppage time, up popped Nanna Christiansen to score the winner.

Belgium saw off hosts Portugal 1-0 thanks to Tine De Caigny’s 65th minute goal. The winners of these two matches now face each other for fifth and sixth place with the losers battling for seventh and eighth place.

Sweden took seventh place after a comfortable 2-0 win over Portugal who finish in last place. Goals from Eva Jakobsson and Fridolina Rolfo earned the Swedes their first win of the competition.

Denmark ensured fifth place with a comprehensive 4-0 thrashing of Belgium. The Danes grabbed two goals in the opening thirteen minutes thanks to strikes from Pernille Harder and Janni Thomsen. Further goals from Nanna Christiansen and Stine Pedersen either side of half-time completed the Danes’ success.

The third place play-off saw New Zealand give another of the big guns a scare when they took an early lead against Norway when Hannah Wilkinson scored for the White Ferns. Crucially for the Norwegians, they hit back within five minutes thanks to a goal from Synne Jensen. Caroline Graham Hansen’s strike with four minutes to go sealed Norway’s win.

Pinatar Cup:

A brand new four team tournament was held this week in Pinatar, a small town in South-Eastern Spain with all matches played at the 3,500 capacity Pinatar Arena on a round robin basis.

Matchday One:

The opening round of matches saw Iceland edge past an ever improving Northern Ireland thanks to a single goal courtesy of Dagny Byrnjarsdottir after 23 minutes. Northern Ireland will be proud of a magnificent performance and scoreline against a team ranked almost forty places above them in the FIFA list.

Tournament favourites Scotland saw off Ukraine comfortably 3-0. The Scots, with Erin Cuthbert rested for their opening encounter, were in total control throughout and West Ham United striker Martha Thomas grabbed the opener 22 minutes into her international debut after running onto a long ball through and slotting her strike in.

Eighteen minutes from the end, Thomas added a second after leaving a Ukrainian defender for dead, breaking through and hitting a shot straight into the net. With seventy-seven minutes on the clock, Claire Emslie, in fine form for Melbourne City, completed the rout by side-footing home the third.

Matchday Two:

Scotland ensured they would become the inaugural Pinatar Cup winners with a match to spare after a 1-0 win over Iceland. Despite the Scots having qualified for both the 2015 Euros and 2019 World Cup, the Icelanders are ranked four places higher in the FIFA list, but Shelly Kerr’s side made a mockery of that statistic with a dominant performance that deserved far more than one goal.

Christie Murray had an early effort saved by Siguroardottir before both Erin Cuthbert and Abbi Grant also coming close but it remained goalless at the break.

On 55 minutes, the Scots finally got their reward when Abbi Grant curled a shot into the left hand corner. Cuthbert, Emslie and Mitchell all rued further misses, but the Scots had done enough to win.

Ukraine recovered well from their opening day thrashing by Scotland to hand Northern Ireland a 4-0 defeat with all the goals coming in a twenty-two minute spell in the first half. A brace from Daryna Apanashchenko plus strikes from Nicole Kozlova and Olha Ovdiychuk ensured that Ukraine’s final group game with Iceland will decide second place.

Matchday Three:

That deciding game resulted in a 1-0 win for Iceland over the Ukraine thanks to a 34th minute strike from Gunnhildur Jonsdottir, her tenth international goal. Whilst the Icelanders may have found goals hard to come by in the competition, they will be delighted to secure second spot in the table.

Scotland ended the competition with a 100% success rate, but once again Northern Ireland produced a display full of pride and determination which saw them belie their world ranking.

Despite Shelly Kerr’s side starting the strongest, it was the green shirted underdogs who took the lead thanks to a Rachel Furness header from a high cross. Furness had a great opportunity to double their advantage, but her header was cleared off of the line by Rachel Corsie. The Scots almost earned an instant equaliser when Chelsea star Erin Cuthbert played in Martha Thomas, but her effort went wide.

However, two goals in three minutes turned the game on its head. First, a sensational strike from Cuthbert from outside the box saw the scores level before Abbi Grant made the best of a defensive error to slot home.

Scotland had four further great opportunities in the second half to add to their lead, but to no avail. The Scots lifted the trophy to become the first ever Pinatar Cup winners. Northern Ireland may have finished bottom of the table, but they have a huge number of positives to take from a superb series of performances against nations ranked much higher than themselves.

Photo: @ScotlandNT

Friendly:

In form Wales gained a comfortable 2-0 win over Estonia at Wrexham’s Racecourse Ground on 6th March.

Chelsea star Sophie Ingle came close when two volleys were saved by Karina Kork in the Estonian goal. Despite the Welsh dominance, which also saw Kayleigh Green go close, it remained goalless at the break.

The deadlock was finally broken when Ingle’s cross resulted in Ffion Morgan’s header being parried by Kork, but Megan Wynn followed up to score. Not long afterwards, Angharad James’ great run ended in a pullback which was hit straight in by Nadia Lawrence.

 
Ben Gilby
bgilby@blueyonder.co.uk