England extended their unbeaten run to 25 games under Sarina Wiegman with an emphatic defeat of 2011 World Cup winners Japan in Murcia.
If there were any fears of Wiegman’s side slowing down after a 0-0 draw with the Czech Republic last month followed by the USA’s 2-1 defeat at Wembley, it was comfortably put to bed against a historically tricky team that they continue to march on towards the World Cup with expectations rising with each match.
The Lionesses have now scored 123 goals and conceded just six since Wiegman took charge in September 2021 and have won all seven games outside Great Britain, scoring 44 and conceding none.
“We played a very good game,” Wiegman said. – It was a very attractive match with a lot of football. They played in a form that we haven’t had against us so much so it was good to practice that. They changed a bit in the second half then they switched back so we had to adapt all the time. It’s really good to see the players doing so well and to see different players and to see substitutes come on and do a good job.”
There were several changes to the team that took to the field for the draw with the Czech Republic last month which ended with 15 wins. But many were forced to make changes rather than the manager choosing. Only Millie Bright, handed the armband with Leah Williamson injured, remained in the backline, with Esme Morgan making her senior debut alongside Chelsea centre-backs and Niamh Charles and Rachel Daly at full-back.
Beth Mead, making her 50th England appearance, two days after being named BBC Women’s Footballer of the Year, and Manchester United forward Alessia Russo returned up front and Georgia Stanway was on in place of Fran Kirby.
Lauren Hemp and Jordan Nobbs were also ruled out of this camp, while a minor injury to that included Alex Greenwood and positive Covid tests from Lucy Bronze alongside a minor injury, saw them ruled out of the match day squad (although Bronze had returned a negative test earlier) to kick-off) with Wiegman saying that “now is not the time to take risks”.
Wiegman had praised the challenge posed by a technical Japan team but said she hoped England could dominate.
The Japanese were unbeaten in 13 games in all competitions before the trip to Spain – nine wins and four draws – with the team’s last defeat coming to Iceland a year ago.
With the wind whipping almost violently through the Pinatar Arena, England did just that despite the potential disruption of numerous changes.
It took Manchester United duo Russo and Ella Toone two minutes to combine and for the latter to force a save from Ayaka Yamashita. Toone, who has signed a new contract with United, was to go close again but she scuffed her shot as she swung at Chloe Kelly’s cross.
There was danger minutes later when Jun Endo floated the ball towards Arsenal’s Mana Iwabuchi but those moments from Japan were fleeting. Far less fleeting were the accurate crosses that flew in from Kelly down the left as England sought the opener.
The hero of the European Championship final, just four months ago, was rampant and could perhaps feel frustrated by the carelessness of his teammates. In quick succession, she delivered twice for Russo, but the first was just in front of the forward and the second went on to the post from six yards. Russo can be forgiven, given the forward’s recent return from injury.
In the 38th minute it was the same story, with Kelly’s cross missed by Russo but this time Daly powered home at the far post.
The full-back, who plays up front at club level, is constantly being considered for a role further forward, Wiegman said. “She’s so versatile, she played a really good game from full-back as well, and she scored goals from that position,” she said. “She is an option to try up front as well, but we also have to look at what players we have available and what is best for the team.”
In the second half, the Lionesses doubled their lead in style. Mead, released on the right, sent a cross in from there that Russo couldn’t reach but Kelly was on hand to fire past Yamashita.
The introduction of Ebony Salmon and Lauren James in the 64th minute for Russo and Kelly upped the ante and 12 minutes later they were both involved when Toone collected Salmon’s reverse pass and sent in England’s third with his left foot.
The fourth spoke of the depth and strength of the European champions’ squad, with Salmon delivering from the right and substitute Jess Park firing in from close range shortly after coming off the bench to make his debut.
The Lionesses face Norway on Tuesday in their final match of 2022.
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