England Women suffered a surprise 0-1 defeat against New Zealand in their final warm-up game before this summer’s World Cup finals.
Phil Neville’s Lionesses dominated much of the game but, despite huffing and puffing, they couldn’t break down a stern Football Ferns defence.
New Zealand’s experienced campaigner, and biggest threat, Sarah Gregorius got the only goal and Tom Sermanni’s side will feel buoyed ahead of the championship in France.
Here are five things we learned from today’s warm-up friendly at Brighton’s Amex Stadium:
1. England dominate, but struggle
No fewer than 16 places separate England (3) and New Zealand (19) in the current FIFA world rankings. Given the gap in quality, despite manager Neville rotating, it was expected that the Lionesses would dominate proceedings. And for much of the opening 45 minutes the game was played in New Zealand’s half – possession was 64% in England’s favour and six shots to none against – with England goalkeeper Carly Telford barely called into action. Although she did pull off a stunning save to deny Betsy Hassett on the stroke of half-time.
2. Against the run of play
So, it came as no surprise when New Zealand took the lead. However, this was all England’s own doing. Five minutes after the break Alex Greenwood’s headed clearance ultimately fell to Rosie White whose shot was parried by Telford into Gregorius’ path, who duly slotted her 34th goal for the Football Ferns. To say the goal came against the run of play is an understatement. It also places more questions on manager Neville’s decision to not field his strongest XI.
From a squad building point-of-view it’s understandable; giving those on the periphery a chance to stake a claim – competition after all forces everyone to step up their game – and boost confidence. Jodie Taylor, who ended Euro 2017 as top scorer, went into this match having failed to score in seven consecutive international matches. It now reads eight. But, going back to the rotating, to do so in the final game before a World Cup seems very much ‘out there’. A manager lives and dies by his choices, this won’t harm Neville, but you would think solidifying cohesion and chemistry would be at the forefront of his mind.
3. All eyes on Parris
Heading into this weekend, the biggest transfer news story regarding the England team was forward Nikita Parris swapping Manchester City – for whom she bagged 46 goals across 90 appearances – for undisputed European champions Olympique Lyon where compatriots Lucy Bronze and Izzy Christiansen call home. She’s expected to start in England’s World Cup opener against ‘old enemy’ Scotland on June 6 at the Allianz Riviera, naturally she wanted to impress here following the big move, but it proved to be difficult though she did get into good scoring positions.
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4. Should the Dutch worry about Football Ferns?
A keen observer on the game in Brighton was reigning European champions Netherlands, who face New Zealand on June 11 in Le Havre, though much focus was on their own game against high-flying Australia. Getting to France was a breeze for the Football Ferns who comfortably came through OFC qualification – topping group B with three wins from three, 27 goals and none conceded, before winning their semi (v New Caledonia) and final (v Fiji) by a scoreline of 8-0.
So, the level of competition isn’t tough (with all due respect), hence their defensive approach. Despite frustrating England they remained vulnerable, and had goalkeeper Erin Nayler to thank on several occasions. On this showing they can’t be taken lightly, especially with a serial campaigner and goalscorer like Gregorius lurking around.
5. Handling the pressure
England, given their status and recent performances, are undoubtedly one of the favourites to succeed in France alongside world number one – and defending champions – United States, hosts France and powerhouse Germany. However, recent results, especially at home have been worrisome. Across their last six games they’ve yielded two wins and three defeats. Momentum isn’t quite on their side. Also in terms of personnel 11 of the 23 going to France haven’t played a single minute of World Cup football. This, of course, brings its own pressures. Neville has done a good job so far, winning the recent SheBelieves Cup, but that is now in the past. Only a string of strong performances in France matters now.