England left Wembley deserved winners in the clash of the titans, the European Champions against the United States, the World Champions.
I have had the pleasure of visiting Wembley many times before, including a certain European Championships Final earlier this summer but this was the first time I had the pleasure of reporting on a game from Wembley stadium. I still pinch myself on occasions like this, when I first launched Since 71 I never thought that we’d be able to enjoy these sorts of opportunities.
Much of the build-up to the game was dominated by the heartbreaking results of an independent investigation that found ‘systemic’ abusive behaviour and sexual misconduct towards players. Both squads came together in solidarity by wearing teal armbands during the Wembley game “to stand in solidarity with sexual abuse victims” and there was a moment’s silence prior to kick-off.
Prior to the game, Jill Scott was presented to the crowd and received a standing ovation as she was recognised for her on field achievements with the Lionesses. Kay Cossington and Sue Campbell (The FA’s Director of Women’s Football) joined Jill pitch side with Sarina Wiegman. Paul Smith, Chairman of her grassroots club Boldon Girls, handed the framed shirt to Sarina Wiegman to hand to Jill.
There was still time to welcome the class of 1972 to join the team photo. Just prior to this the players (in some cases family members on behalf of their relatives) received bespoke England caps, presented to them by Jill Scott and Leah Williamson. This was to celebrate the 50th anniversary next month of their first international together post the FA ban. A lovely gesture!
Going into the match, the United States have only conceded three goals in their last eighteen matches. However, apart from Canada, the United States hasn’t played a FIFA Top Ten-ranked side since they faced Sweden in July 2021. This was going to be a sterner test than recent opponents, Nigeria, Mexico, Uzbekistan, Columbia and Haiti.
Despite a positive start from the US, it was England that raced into an early lead in the tenth minute when Lauren Hemp tucked the ball into the net after Naomi Girma failed to cut out a Beth Mead cross.
This appeared to rock the US and they lost their early composure, at least until the thirty-third minute when Lindsey Horan dispossessed Georgia Stanway before finding Sophia Smith. The twenty-two-year-old from Portland Thorns lashed the ball into the bottom corner of Mary Earps’ goal giving her no chance.
Five minutes later, after a belated VAR review, England were awarded a penalty after a high foot from first-half substitute Hailie Mace on Lucy Bronze. Stanway took the kick and sent Alyssa Naeher the wrong way.
The United States thought that they had immediately got themselves back into the game through Trinity Rodman although after another VAR review Smith was judged to have been offside in the build up, a harsh one on the World Champions.
While many will have wanted the match to keep going, I was looking forward to half time as it provided me a moment to catch my breath!
I’ll be honest, I had reservations about Hemp being played as a false nine while there were specialist strikers on the bench. How wrong was I? Hemp was superb in the first half, she was non-stop running and the US defence struggled to handle her tenacious press.
There was an early chance in the second half for Smith but she pulled her shot just passed Earps’ far post.
In the fifty-fourth minute, Lauren Hemp did superbly to win the ball on the left flank, she drove upfield with the ball and put in a lovely cross which was left by Fran Kirby for the incoming Lucy Bronze, her shot looked in but sadly for the home fans the ripple was from the side netting.
England continued to look bright in the second half and when Ella Toone was introduced she provided the game with a boost of excitement, something that she did so well during the Euros. I would have liked to have seen more from Lauren James and Ebony Salmon but clearly, Sarina disagreed. James was introduced in the eighty-ninth minute for what was nothing more than a cameo to slow the game down and secure the victory, which it did to be fair.
This was another great occasion at Wembley although if we’re not careful we’re going to be going into next year’s World Cup with high expectations and hope. Although this England team does not appear to carry the same burden of the men’s team and with Sarina at the helm those high expectations and hope are
England: 1 Mary Earps (GK), 2 Lucy Bronze, 3 Rachel Daly, 4 Keira Walsh, 5 Millie Bright (c), 6 Alex Greenwood, 7 Beth Mead, 8 Georgia Stanway, 9 Lauren Hemp, 10 Fran Kirby, 11 Chloe Kelly.
Substitutes: 18 Ella Toone for Kirby 67’, 22 Lauren James for Kelly 91’
Substitutes not used: 12 Esme Morgan, 13 Ellie Roebuck (GK), 14 Katie Zelem, 15 Lotte Wubben-Moy, 16 Jessica Carter, 17 Nikita Parris, 19 Jess Park, 20 Demi Stokes, 21 Sandy MacIver (GK), 23 Ebony Salmon.
USA: 1 Alyssa Naeher (GK), 3 Alana Cook, 6 Trinity Rodman, 8 Sofia Huerta, 10 Lindsey Horan, 11 Sophia Smith, 12 Naomi Girma, 15 Megan Rapinoe, 16 Rose Lavelle, 17 Andi Sullivan, 23 Emily Fox.
Substitutes: 5 Hailie Mace for Fox 21’, 14 Sam Coffey for Sullivan 62’, 19 Crystal Dunn for Huerta 62’, 2 Ashley Sanchez for Rodman 83’, 13 Alyssa Thompson for Rapinoe 83’, 4 Becky Sauerbrunn for Girma 83’
Substitutes not used: 7 Ashley Hatch, 18 Casey Murphy (GK), 20 Jaelin Howell, 21 Aubrey Kingsbury (GK), 22 Kristie Mewis, 25 Savannah Demelo.