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Cancel the investigation, deactivate the alarms: the true Lionesses have returned. How determined is England to secure a spot in next year’s Olympics? This exciting second-half comeback against the Netherlands at Wembley speaks for itself. With their chance to advance to the Nations League finals in jeopardy and trailing 2-0 against the Dutch, England executed a remarkable turnaround to secure a crucial victory. Ella Toone’s late goal in stoppage time saved the Lionesses from a disastrous evening.
That was what Sarina Wiegman’s side looked set for after what was perhaps their poorest first-half performance under the Dutch manager. Wiegman’s former side were far sharper, far hungrier, but the Lionesses showed all of their resilience and battling qualities when they needed them most. England tore through the Netherlands after the break and, by the end, were thoroughly deserving of victory, even if there remains more to do.
Some may argue that they were always confident, but in reality, there were doubts. The team will head to Hampden Park with the knowledge that they must secure a significant victory against Scotland on Tuesday, or hope that Belgium can defeat the Netherlands, in order to have a chance at advancing. However, at halftime, the Lionesses would have eagerly accepted this situation. The substitution of Beth Mead, who won the golden boot at the Euros and had been absent for a year, seemed to energize England. Additionally, Lauren James stepped up to the challenge and took charge, leading her team to victory.
The attacker delivered two impressive crosses to the back post, resulting in two goals: the first by Georgia Stanway to ignite England’s comeback, and the second by Toone for the dramatic winning goal. Toone’s calm and collected finish at the back post added another important goal to her country’s tally, while Lauren Hemp celebrated her 50th cap with a fantastic equalizer.
The second half brought a significant change for England, as they displayed faster ball movement, better ball control, and a more solid defense. They also utilized the midfield runs to put pressure on the Netherlands in the opposite direction. Wiegman made adjustments to the starting lineup, which initially did not include a designated striker, and the team improved greatly with the addition of Alessia Russo and Rachel Daly to the forward line.
At the end of the game, the England team seemed worn out. They may have been fatigued. However, in order to come in first place in their Nations League group, they must rely on the Netherlands losing points against Belgium and also win against Scotland at Hampden. It is a complicated situation, but England showed great skills during their last home game of 2023. At halftime, this seemed impossible.
The initial score was avoidable. England may argue that it should not have been permitted. Alex Greenwood was pulled out of her spot and Lineth Beerensteyn was sent through. Jess Carter and Lucy Bronze crashed into each other in the penalty area, giving the Dutch striker an opportunity to shoot past Mary Earps. England mentioned that Hemp’s previous shot, which appeared to be heading towards the far post, was deflected out by Netherlands goalie Daphne van Domselaar. Rather than trying to stop the Dutch attack, England should have been awarded a corner kick.
However, these circumstances are inevitable and in a crucial game where scoring the first goal seemed essential, considering the open strategies of both teams, the Lionesses fell behind.
Their responsibility became even more challenging and the second goal for Netherlands was even more disappointing than the first. Carter and Greenwood hesitated once again, with Carter failing to successfully clear the ball and Greenwood giving Beerensteyn too much space to maneuver. This resulted in a shot from inside the penalty area, which Earps should have saved but it slipped through her hands. It was another significant mistake from the goalkeeper, following her error in the Manchester derby at Old Trafford last month. The fact that their player of the year made such a blatant mistake highlighted England’s overall lack of success.
There are reasons to explain it: this team reached two major tournament finals in two summers and this was another night where, at times, an excessive schedule caught up with them. For 45 minutes, a team who have so often risen to the occasion fell flat in front of a big Wembley crowd.
However, there is still a possibility for them to succeed. The current situation of the Lionesses can be attributed to their losses against Belgium in the previous month and the Dutch in September. It has been quite a while since the Lionesses have faced failure, but being eliminated from the competition with one game remaining would have been considered a setback.
England is no longer in control of the situation, but if they had the opportunity, this would be their preferred way to exit. They were not easily recognizable in the first half, but at Wembley, the true Lionesses have returned.