Tuesday’s game at the Brentford Community Stadium saw two of the world’s top ten teams face off ahead of this summer’s Women’s World Cup. England entered the game in top form, having seen off Brazil on penalties in the inaugural Women’s Finalissima in front of a packed-out Wembley Stadium last Thursday. Australia had also been in solid form of late, with the Matildas’ seven-game winning streak having only been broken on Good Friday following a narrow 1-0 defeat at the hands of Scotland.
The match was dedicated as an Alzheimer’s Society international, supporting those who have been devastated by dementia. Both teams played without names on three of their shirts, drawing attention to the fact that 1 in 3 people born in the UK today will develop dementia. Three different players wore the nameless shirts in each half, to further emphasise the confusion and memory loss experienced by those living with the condition.
ENG: Earps; Bronze, Williamson, Morgan, Carter; Walsh, Stanway, Toone; Kelly, Russo, Hemp
AUS: Arnold; Carpenter, Hunt, Polkinghorne, Grant; Raso, Cooney-Cross, Gorry, Yallop; Fowler, Kerr
The Lionesses made two changes to the starting XI that played at Wembley, with Chloe Kelly replacing Lauren James in the front three and Esme Morgan coming in for the injured Alex Greenwood. Australia saw a welcome return for captain Sam Kerr starting up top, partnering Mary Fowler. As in the Finalissima, Leah Williamson continued to wear the OneLove armband – with all of the Lionesses sporting purple wristbands as a symbol of their ongoing fight against gender inequality.
A very vibrant and energetic light show preceded the kick-off and helped to get the sell-out crowd in the mood for this friendly fixture, and to lift spirits amid the intense rain-fall. However, the torrential rainfall certainly played a part at the start of the match, with neither side either really able to get a foot-hold in the game with many a miss-placed pass.
England, donning their new all-blue away strip, were the team to have the first meaningful attempt, with a ball played in from the left by Lauren Hemp towards Alessia Russo, who was able to force a save from Australia keeper Mackenzie Arnold.
At the other end of the pitch, Sam Kerr looked as dangerous as she does week in, week out in the WSL for Chelsea, playing on the shoulder of the last defender and making threating runs in behind. The wet weather would lead to the next meaningful opportunity for either side, as a slip from Kiera Walsh saw Hayley Raso through on goal, but her attempt was halted as Mary Earps saved well.
The Lionesses start to get a hold of the game and the crowd become lively in order to drive the team forward. Football can be a simple game when tactics are executed correctly and a corner routine almost came off for the Lionesses, but Russo went down following a collision with Arnold. After briefly receiving treatment for a potential head injury, the forward was given the all clear to continue
Although England were seeing more of the ball, Australia were combative and resolute in the midfield, giving Walsh in particular very little time to pick out a pass, and the Matildas continued to look threatening in behind on the counter attack.
Lauren Hemp, who had been one of the brighter sparks in the match, was forced off within the opening thirty minutes due an aggravation to the face injury she had sustained on Thursday and had to be replaced by Lauren James. Chloe Kelly had moved over to the right side in Hemp’s absence, and played in an inviting cross – but Russo’s volley didn’t connect cleanly and was sent wide of the post.
As had been the case all half, Sam Kerr was looking dangerous and was able to make great work from very little, latching on to a poor header from Leah Williamson and scooping it coolly over an out-rushing Earps to give the Matildas the lead in the 32nd minute. Had VAR been in operation, the goal may well have been disallowed – but we’ll never know.
Shortly after, Georgia Stanway was beaten in midfield and Kerr was played through once again – but solid work from Leah Williamson allows her to muscle the Aussie off the ball. Lauren James’ first real involvement came soon after, as her shot from outside of the box flew high and wide of the goal in injury time.
Chloe Kelly whipped in a deep cross that has Arnold flapping, but Russo was unable to react and the Australia keeper regained control – meaning the Matildas held their lead ahead of the break. Australian head coach Tony Gustavsson would certainly have been the happier of the two managers, as Sarina Wiegman would be looking for an improved performance in the second half.
England looked to start the second half on the front foot but their set-piece routines continually saw them playing the ball short – and the visitors were able to defend with ease.. The tempo was a lot greater for England, and the introduction of Rachel Daly for Ella Toone moved England into a slightly unconventional – but very attacking – 4-2-4 formation, clearly highlighting their intentions for the remainder of the match.
This decision did not pay off for the Lionesses however, as Australia broke free in behind – allowing Sam Kerr to play a dangerous cross to the far post for the marauding Grant to steal in and head on goal. A cruel deflection off Leah Williamson saw the ball into the back of the net, compounding a difficult evening for the England skipper. The Lionesses were two goals down, and with just over twenty minutes remaining, it was looking likely for the Lionesses to pick up their first defeat under Sarina Wiegman.
But they were not to go down without a fight, and Rachel Daly will be disappointed to have not managed a shot on target from an unmarked header. As the game entered the closing stages, there was not a lot for the fans to cheer for, and the game petered out into a fairly comfortable win for the visitors.
Although they dominated possession, England looked a little lost at times in the match. The Lionesses had rarely found themselves behind under Sarina Wiegman’s leadership, and losing under the Dutchwoman marks unexplored territory. The highs of Thursday’s victory will be quickly forgotten – as the Lionesses have no further scheduled fixtures before the World Cup kicks off in 100 days time.
As a reminder, this evening’s match aimed to raise vital funds and awareness of the life-changing support that the Alzheimer’s Society offer, which provides help and hope to thousands. Should you wish to donate, you can do so via www.alzheimers.org.uk