With England playing their final two friends before the World Cup squad is announced, what have we learned from the matches against Brazil and Australia?
Where did it go wrong for England against Australia?
There was an aura of invincibility that came with this England side going into this game, which is to be expected after a 30-match unbeaten streak.
Ask any national team coach and they’re quick to tell you England under Sarina Wiegman are the team to beat this summer.
But impotent in attack and error-strewn at the back, England were quite simply bad against an Australia side missing almost 500 caps of experience.
Senior players like Leah Williamson and Lucy Bronze failed to cope with the one World Class opponent in Sam Kerr, while in experienced Esme Morgan dealt with the frustrations that come with a game of struggles.
Chloe Kelly was quiet, Ella Toone couldn’t find space and all of England’s build-up play was predictable and ineffective.
There’s no need to panic, World Cup challengers Germany also lost on Tuesday. But improvement is needed when up against the best.
How big of a setback is the defeat for England?
England were always going to lose under Wiegman, it was just a case of when. It turns out, it was a wet April evening in Brentford against a very impressive Australia.
This international break has perhaps been England’s most effective yet. They have won their first penalty shootout and also lost their first game under Wiegman. For a side that has always focused on learning and improving as much as possible, both games offered those real-world opportunities.
Let’s start with the downside. This was the last game before Wiegman chooses her World Cup squad and it is never ideal having lost for the first time so close to a major tournament. No player covered themselves in glory and Wiegman’s squad still largely picks itself.
But in some ways, it could be perfect timing. While all of the games since the Euros have been classified as World Cup preparations, they will begin in earnest in June. There will likely be more games to come before the tournament opener on July 22, giving England the chance to work on their issues and make amends for an error-strewn performance.
Wiegman told Sky Sports News that she was “disappointed, but not frustrated”, and that sums it up nicely. It’s not all doom and gloom, but it is disappointing to see England fall so flat and not be able to find the answer to the problem in front of them.
But while the 30-match unbeaten run was nice, there is plenty more to come from this special Lionesses group. If a loss now leads to glory at the World Cup, England players, staff and fans would take that in heartbeat.
England Miss Bright and Greenwood
Emma Hayes often insists Mille Bright doesn’t get the recognition she deserves as one of the best centre-backs on the planet.
If you ever needed proof, go back to watch England’s defeat to Australia.
Williamson and Morgan, playing together for the first time, weren’t on the same page positionally and couldn’t deal with the quality of Kerr.
Bright was the most selected outfield player under Wiegman going into this international break and we all know why now.
Her ability, instincts and organizational skills were desperately missed against both Brazil and Australia, leaving Williamson exposed.
England were also without one of the most-capped players in Alex Greenwood and missed her calmness at the back.
Both players will be back for the summer but it shows England can’t afford any major injuries before they set off for Australia.
Why England’s penalty shoot-out win in Finalissima was so important
England have faced a fair few battles since Wiegman arrived. They have won big knockout games and even major tournaments in extra-time, coping with the pressure in the must-win moments.
But they were yet to win a game on penalties – ever. They lost 4-3 in both of their previous shoot-outs against Sweden at Euro 1984 and France at the 2011 World Cup.
Of course, none of the current Lionesses squad would have been involved in either of those previous matches, but the specter of penalty shoot-out failure often hangs over every England squad. It’s a cruelty that has befallen the men’s team in particular time and again.
During Euro 2022, they practiced spot-kicks extensively, although never had to use them. And with the World Cup three and half months away, it is perfectly reasonable to assume penalties will happen in the knockout rounds, and England now have competitive, high-pressure shoot-out experience under their belts.
Within that too, they have also fought back under adversity. Mary Earps’ late spill could have knocked the goalkeeper’s confidence ahead of a shoot-out, but she made a fine save from Tamires. Ella Toone too will learn from her own penalty miss.
Winning on penalties also breeds even more confidence – the Lionesses know they can maintain composure and concentration in the tensest of environments and come out victorious on the other side.
It is another first for this group, but one of their most important so far. That mindset and experience will be so important heading into the summer. This is still a very young squad in terms of international football, but these building blocks will only continue to spearhead them towards success.