Euro Ramblings (Group A) – England v Norway
Has there ever been a more comfortable, dominant or impressive display at a major international tournament than England’s demolition of Norway? The record books would suggest not; with the Lionesses claiming a number of records in Monday night’s rout that back up that claim, being both the first team to score six goals in the first half of a European Championship and the first team to score eight goals in a Euros match. And this not against one of the lesser-ranked sides in the tournament but former World Cup winners and twice Euros winners, Norway, who boast a Ballon d’Or winner in their ranks and who many feared would prove England’s toughest test in the group stages. So is it time to get out those flags and declare football is finally coming home or should we celebrate the performance but temper expectations on the basis that Monday night must surely be a one-off? Oh, dash it, let’s enjoy it while we can.
Goals galore – There’s surely only one place to start when looking back on the game and that’s the record-breaking goal haul. In truth, there had been little in the much cagier first-round match against Austria to suggest an eight-goal drubbing was on the cards. The Lionesses had been efficient if not eye-catching in that 1-0 opener and talk had been of being more clinical, more ruthless, taking the chances when they came. And, boy, did England deliver. Penalties, tap-ins, mazy runs, headers, we were treated to a goalscoring extravaganza, which lacked only an acrobatic overhead kick to place the cherry on the proverbial cake. Despite England’s clinical display, in all honesty there were chances to hit double figures, which would have done very little for Norway’s morale but would have sent a home nation already basking in the heat into meltdown. But let’s not get greedy, eight goals will do nicely, for starters. Let’s save the 10-0 victory for the Final.
Near-perfection – It’s something we all strive for, the achievement of perfection in whatever context we apply it, but in reality it happens very rarely, if ever. Monday night’s, however, must be as close as it comes to a perfect Lionesses performance, a perfect football performance. The eight goals, of course, tell their own story, but in terms of a complete team performance, there was very little more that Sarina Wigeman could have asked for or the players delivered. Offensively, it was about as good as it gets, with wave after wave of searching attacks, led most notably by both wide players, as well as England’s advanced full-backs. And whilst a clean sheet may be the least of Monday night’s headlines, how much more satisfying does 8-0 sound than 8-1 or 8-2? Critics will be quick to argue that the defence had an easy night of it, with very little in the way of a threat from Norway, but one lapse in concentration, one missed header on a corner or one moment of indecision at the back and a chance could have been capitalised on, but once again Millie Bright was at the heart of deflecting any Norwegian half-chances and securing a confidence-boosting second clean sheet of the campaign.
Star player – It’s hard to look past hat-trick hero Beth Mead when picking the standout performer from Monday night and in truth all sixteen players who featured would feel hard done by to pick up less than an 8/10 in any ratings. Anyone who watched Tuesday morning’s Euros summary on Sky Sports News would have seen broadcaster Emily Dean dishing out ratings of 60, 70 and 74 – out of 10 – to England’s Lionesses and it’s hard to argue. But whilst Mead rightly deserves another raft of plaudits, Ellen White proved just why she has been England’s number 9 for over a decade. Indeed, it was one of the best number 9 performances I’ve seen in the game in a long while – a complete masterclass in the position. It was as if she was in an instructional video demonstrating how to play the role, with work rate, hold-up play and hassling of defenders all covered, whilst her first goal illustrated tenacity, strength and composure and her second goal movement, positioning and the predatory qualities of all great forwards. White hasn’t always got the recognition she deserves despite being England women’s record goalscorer, but for any doubters, Monday night was a demonstration of just what a complete striker the Man City player is.
Quarter-Finals – Although England have only played two games, Monday night they emphatically sealed their place in the Quarter-Finals – meaning England are, wait for it, just three games from victory. There is still one final group game remaining. The clash against Northern Ireland which rounds off the Lionesses’ group stage is one many from the home nations have been looking forward to since the draw took place, but for which England can now afford to rest players should they choose to do so, with the knock-out game five days later possibly featuring a match-up against Spain or Germany. Both sides looked impressive in their respective 4-1 and 4-0 wins in their first games, but the head-to-head on Tuesday will most likely determine the final shape of Group B, with both Finland and Denmark in the reckoning. On the strength of Monday night’s performance, England shouldn’t fear anyone, but we all know how these things go.
Wright Man for the Job – Is there any better pundit for an England game than the unapologetically patriotic Ian Wright? There is absolutely never any question over how much he loves England and wants them to win. And his red and white passion was once more on full display on Monday night on the Beeb. What’s great about Ian Wright is that he’s a true football fan first and foremost, and be it England Under-6s or England Over-96s if there were such teams, men and women, he gives the game and its players his full backing. A lot is spoken about with regard to male allies in the women’s game, supporting and championing women’s football, and they don’t come any bigger or more passionate than Ian Wright. Who else would you want in your corner as Team England?