17 Aug 2022 | 08:46 | Football
Let’s not get too ahead of ourselves. They remain one of the favourites but you will not find anyone in the Lionesses camp getting carried away with this result – the fans might be slightly different.
The Lionesses wanted a test and they got one. Let’s not forget, the Netherlands won the Euros in 2017 and were finalists at the 2019 World Cup. A number of the players in the current squad were involved in those games.
England went behind for the first time under Sarina Wiegman and showed the kind of tournament-winning mentality that you need, coming from behind and not letting a setback interrupt a game plan. In fact, England improved after Lieke Martens’ opener in a first half that was quite a tight affair.
It was two good sides going toe-to-toe, chances for both and an equal score. 1-1 was an accurate reflection of the first half and you expected another meeting of minds after the break.
But there were 54 seconds that changed the game. Sherida Spitse missed a penalty on her 200th Netherlands cap, before the Lionesses countered and scored through Beth Mead – who made her half-time substitution count and then some.
There were some asking questions about England’s ability to finish off chances after the Belgium friendly, especially after a string of missed efforts in the first half. Wiegman herself said her side would need to start finishing them off to have a chance at the Euros.
That second half certainly put paid to any of those fears, but an attritional opening period with a fair few sloppy moments will be what Wiegman will focus on. The second 45 minutes of both friendlies so far were much improved on the opening periods, but the Lionesses now need to make sure both halves are as good as one another to give a more complete performance.
But let’s make no bones about it – this was a huge win and a massive statement to the other teams at Euro 2022. Countries including Spain, Sweden, France and Germany will be sitting up and taking notes – likely how on earth do we stop Lauren Hemp – with England firmly and brilliantly throwing down the gauntlet.
What happens over the next five weeks remains to be seen, but fans have every reason to be excited.
If it wasn’t clear before, it is now. Hemp is England’s best player going into the European Championships and her form will dictate how well the Lionesses do on home soil.
This 5-1 victory over the Netherlands shows exactly why Weigman needs to get the best out of her. In the first half, Hemp barely got involved in the game after the first five minutes and England were devoid of ideas going forward.
But the second half was a Hemp masterclass. Last season’s Young PFA Player of the Year drove at opponents, placed clever intricate passes to team-mates – and ended up with a goal and two assists.
Of course, the Lionesses have other talents at their disposal. Millie Bright is key at the back, Leah Williamson dictates matters from midfield – with Beth Mead and Ellen White also tasked with chipping in up front.
But Hemp appears to unlock all these players – no other player carries the influence she does.
Legendary England goalkeeper Karen Bardsley wore a shirt with “Lauren Hemp is my spirit animal” at Elland Road – she’ll carry the spirit of the nation too.
Alongside Hemp, one of England’s biggest pluses heading into the tournament is their strength in depth. This is a young, fit, hungry squad and the options from the bench are, quite frankly, ridiculous.
Look at the impact Mead and Chloe Kelly had after their half-time introductions in both friendlies. Both changed the course of their respective games and were on the scoresheet.
Two other players that impressive in their cameos on Friday evening were Man Utd pair Ella Toone and Alessia Russo. They looked sharp as they staked their claim for a starting spot in the absence of record goalscorer Ellen White.
Toone’s scoring record for England continues to boggle the mind – she now has 11 goals in 14 appearances after a superb goal against the Netherlands and seemed to make something happen every time she had the ball. Russo herself was unlucky not to score.
While neither are likely to oust White just yet, they are more vibrant options for Wiegman to call upon when England need a spark of creativity and, most importantly, goals.
It was a contrast to the Netherlands too, who just did not have the same kind of quality coming off their bench. While England only got harder, better, faster, stronger with their subs, the Netherlands went in the other direction. Yes, there was the introduction of Vivianne Miedema, but by that point, England were in the ascendancy and she never truly got to show the kind of world-class player we all know she is. But make no mistake, Miedema will be the Netherlands’ key this summer.
As for England, they have a plethora of game-changers on their bench that will hopefully lead them to the Euros trophy this summer.
One of the big focuses for the Netherland friendly was a much better test of England’s defence ahead of the Euros and at times, it was a mixed bag.
The first half is a far better indicator of where they are and there were some sloppy passes, especially in the early exchanges as Netherlands pressed off the ball and tried to exert some pressure. That will be of some concern.
Conceding from a set-piece – just the second goal England have conceded under Wiegman – would not have been in the playbook either, but these types of goals will come against the top sides. As already mentioned, England’s reaction to going behind showed what a top-class side they are.
The Lionesses will also have to get used to VAR reviewing certain decisions – the Netherlands penalty was given after the referee used the pitchside monitor with Alex Greenwood penalised for a clumsy challenge. More care will be needed when those kinds of moments are under the spotlight, possibly in match-defining moments.
Some good moments to mention though – Mary Earps made a sensational save in the first half while the game was goalless, and did enough to put Spitse off during her penalty – the goalkeeper would have saved the penalty if it did not go wide.
Rachel Daly also put in a great shift at left-back, at one point busting a gut to get back and stop a lively Lineth Beerensteyn from scoring in the first half too. She impressed on her 50th cap at her hometown club of Elland Road.
Wiegman mentioned that there are still things to be worked on and a tightening up and more assurance at the back will likely be on the to-do list.
Along with Steph Houghton’s omission from the final Lionesses Euros squad, the other contentious call made by Weigman was Fran Kirby’s call-up.
The Chelsea attacker has been sidelined with a long-term illness since the beginning of this year – and eyebrows were raised when somebody who had so little game time made the final squad.
But against the Netherlands, Kirby looked like she’d never been away. Playing in the No 10 role, she was not afraid to get on the ball and played a key role with Hemp in terms of England’s best work up top.
In the first half, Kirby won a dangerous free-kick on the edge of the box and played an important part in England’s pressing game. In fact, she can claim a partial role in Lucy Bronze’s first goal.
The pressing trio of Hemp, Beth England and Kirby forced Jackie Groenen into an error which the Chelsea player pounced on – before setting up Bronze for her bizarre finish.
She could have had a goal too, had she not dithered on the ball after getting space in the penalty area. Overall, Wiegman’s selection of Kirby appears to have paid off.
England conclude their Euro 2022 preparations when they visit Switzerland on Thursday, in what is their final friendly before the tournament begins on July 6. That evening, the Lionesses host Austria at Old Trafford.
Keep up with all the latest from Euro 2022 across Sky Sports and Sky Sports News this summer.
Coverage will be anchored by Sky Sports WSL presenter Caroline Barker, alongside Jessica Creighton and Kyle Walker. Meanwhile, Karen Carney, Sue Smith, Courtney Sweetman-Kirk and Laura Bassett will give analysis throughout the tournament.
They will also be joined by experienced England goalkeeper Karen Bardsley and Manchester City defender Esme Morgan.
The pundits and presenters will work from the Sky Sports Women’s Euro 2022 Mobile Presentation Bus, which will follow the Sky Sports News team around the country to the various stadiums where matches are being played.
In addition, Sky Sports’ Essential Football Podcast will be rebranded for the tournament to Sky Sports Women’s Euros Podcast rom 21 June. Hosted by Charlotte Marsh and Anton Toloui, it will feature exclusive news and player interviews in addition to a strong programme line up around the tournament.
Group A: England, Austria, Norway, Northern Ireland
Group B: Germany, Denmark, Spain, Finland
Group C: Netherlands, Sweden, Portugal, Switzerland
Group D: France, Italy, Belgium, Iceland
Wednesday July 6
Group A: England vs Austria – kick off 8pm, Old Trafford
Thursday July 7
Group A: Norway vs Northern Ireland – kick off 8pm, St Mary’s
Friday July 8
Group B: Spain vs Finland – kick off 5pm, Stadium MK
Group B: Germany vs Denmark – kick off 8pm, London Community Stadium
Saturday July 9
Group C: Portugal vs Switzerland – kick off 5pm, Leigh Sports Village
Group C: Netherlands vs Sweden – kick off 8pm, Bramall Lane
Sunday July 10
Group D: Belgium vs Iceland – kick off 5pm, Manchester City Academy Stadium
Group D: France vs Italy – kick off 8pm, New York Stadium
Monday July 11
Group A: Austria vs Northern Ireland – kick off 5pm, St Mary’s
Group A: England v Norway – kick off 8pm, Brighton and Hove Community Stadium
Tuesday July 12
Group B: Denmark vs Finland – kick off 5pm, Stadium MK
Group B: Germany vs Spain – kick off 8pm, London Community Stadium
Wednesday July 13
Group C: Sweden vs Switzerland – kick off 5pm, Bramall Lane
Group C: Netherlands v Portugal – kick off 8pm, Leigh Sports Village
Thursday July 14
Group D: Italy vs Iceland – kick off 5pm, Manchester City Academy Stadium
Group D: France vs Belgium – kick off 8pm, New York Stadium
Friday July 15
Group A: Northern Ireland v England – kick off 8pm, St Mary’s
Group A: Austria vs Norway – kick off 8pm, Brighton and Hove Community Stadium
Saturday July 16
Group B: Finland vs Germany – kick off 8pm, Stadium MK
Group B: Denmark vs Spain – kick off 8pm, London Community Stadium
Sunday July 17
Group C: Switzerland vs Netherlands – kick off 5pm, Bramall Lane
Group C: Sweden vs Portugal – kick off 5pm, Leigh Sports Village
Monday July 18
Group D: Iceland vs France – kick off 8pm, New York Stadium
Group D: Italy vs Belgium – kick off 8pm, Manchester City Academy Stadium
Wednesday July 20
Quarter-final 1: Winners Group A v Runners-up Group B – kick off 8pm, Brighton and Hove Community Stadium
Thursday July 21
Quarter-final 2: Winners Group B v Runners-up Group A – kick off 8pm, London Community Stadium
Friday July 22
Quarter-final 3: Winners Group C v Runners-up Group D – kick off 8pm, Leigh Sports Village
Quarter-final 4: Winners Group D v Runners-up Group C – kick off 8pm, New York Stadium
Tuesday July 26
Semi-final 1: Winners quarter-final 1 v Winners quarter-final 3 – kick off 8pm, Bramall Lane
Wednesday July 27
Semi-final 2: Winners quarter-final 2 v Winners quarter-final 4 – kick-off 8pm, Stadium MK
Sunday July 31
Winners semi-final 1 v Winners semi-final 2 – kick off 5pm, Wembley