England hit the woodwork twice as they produced one of the goalless football scores of the weekend in a World Cup warm-up game. The European champions were lifeless for the first 45 minutes when Georgia Stanway deflected the ball against the bar just before halftime, with their first World Cup group match against Haiti only three weeks away. Alessia Russo, a substitute who was threatening but lacked sharpness, and Lucy Bronze both headed against the post from corners as Sarina Wiegman’s team attempted to finish the season on a high note before departing for the competition in Australia and New Zealand, respectively. Portugal, who will participate in their first World Cup this summer, remained steadfast, though.
The fact that England won’t be entering the World Cup on the heels of a loss will be a plus, unlike in their previous five visits. In fact, Portugal never seemed like it would beat England for the first time. The hosts got off to a good start, with two early headers from Rachel Daly forcing custodian Ines Pereira to work. Daly was given the chance to shine in her competition with Russo for the No. 9 position. Soon after, on the cusp of halftime, Stanway used her knee to deflect the ball against the crossbar. But England suffered in the meanwhile.
After those early Daly headers, the visitors—who had won eight straight games up until April—found their footing, containing England and finding some delight of their own down the right. Before Stanway improvised from Lauren Hemp’s cross in stoppage time, Wiegman’s team had only generated a few threats: an Ella Toone long-range effort that drifted wide, a Daly overhead far off target, an Alex Greenwood cross that was sent carelessly and ended up on the roof of the net, and a blocked shot by Daly. At the interval, the manager made three substitutions in response, bringing on Russo, Kelly, and Niamh Charles while switching Lauren James to the No. 10 position. It changed England’s aggressive play, but the decisive edge remained absent.
Around the hour mark, England could have taken the lead during a three-minute spurt. Hemp headed over a corner, and Kelly narrowly missed the goal. Russo was brought in by James but was stopped by Ana Borges’ covering block after evading the custodian. Stanway’s corner was then headed by Bronze against the post, and Russo mishandled a Kelly cut-back. Russo remained England’s focal point, but the hosts were unable to get through despite having 23 attempts in total. A pair of efforts that went wide in short succession were followed by a tame save and blocked shot in the dying seconds. Down Under, they’ll need to be more cynical.
“We were unhappy that we were unable to score. I believe there is a lot that we have seen. I believe that in the first half, we played a possession game too slowly. When we did send the ball forward, we didn’t have enough guys and it was moving too slowly because we had too many people behind the ball,” England boss Sarina Wiegman said. “With players positioned higher on the pitch and at times playing more quickly and with a faster ball tempo, we performed somewhat better in the second half. We occasionally ran with the ball too much and spent too much time on it, too. Despite the fact that we had a tonne of chances and that the number of shoots is not necessarily indicative of success, we ought to have scored. That is common knowledge.”
“In this game, England had a few issues to resolve. Who could step in as Millie Bright’s replacement on defense? Alongside Jess Carter, Esme Morgan appeared calm and confident. England had a little more of a creative outlet in the first half thanks to Alex Greenwood, who played on the left,” Gail Davis said. “Georgia Stanway, Ella Toone, and Keira Walsh are Wiegman’s go-to midfielders, but they failed to control the midfield in the first half, and the England boss will expect more from them in the coming weeks. There will undoubtedly be further discussion over who should go first. Alessia Russo was bright, vivacious, and a handful in the second half, but – and this is a huge but – she failed to finish any of her chances. Rachel Daly had early opportunities to establish her claim.”
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