England 7-2 Austria: Clinton scores on debut as England thrash Austria in Marbella friendly

England and Austria met in Marbella for the Lionesses’ first game since the heartbreaking end to their Olympic dreams. Sarina Wiegman referred to the game as the start of England’s Euros campaign with qualification beginning in April. Meanwhile Irene Fuhrmann’s team were seeking a win against an England team they’ve tested before – most famously in the opener of the 2022 Euro- but never beaten.

In a week where England’s under-23s have linked up with the senior camp, youth talent has been highlighted – particularly by the inclusion of debutant Grace Clinton in the starting lineup who has been in fine form for Tottenham in the Women’s Super League, and Chelsea’s Aggie Beever-Jones called up to the bench in the absence of Chloe Kelly. 

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ENG: Hampton; Le Tissier, Morgan, Greenwood, Charles; Clinton, Stanway, Toone; Mead, Russo, Hemp
AUS: Zinsberger; Schiechtl, Georgieva, Kirchberger, Naschenweng; Purtscheller, Zadrazil, Puntigam, Dunst; Campbell, Hobinger

The Lionesses made an immediately strong start, opening their account for the night within a matter of minutes – Alessia Russo’s signature physicality allowed her to hold the ball up in midfield before sending a well-hit pass to Beth Mead who found herself in plenty of space to lay the ball back in from the right hand side. Though it looked as though her Arsenal teammate Manuela Zinsberger would collect initially, the latter made an unfortunate error in spilling the ball back to Russo for an easy finish. It was the start of a long night for Austria.

Austria’s individual quality was visible in moments, with some pressure on England’s backline from Liverpool’s Marie Höbinger and their young attacking threat Eileen Campbell. However, it was England who dominated the opening stages, with fresher faces such as Maya Le Tissier and Grace Clinton looking keen to be involved. The latter didn’t take long to make an outright impact; her energy was clear from the outset and she almost made a spectacular finish to open her England account with a first-time left-footed attempt spinning into the woodwork. She didn’t have long to wait after that – her first goal for her country came within twenty minutes. She made a late run into the box catching defenders unaware and put her on the spot to head home a perfect delivery from Lauren Hemp.

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Fuhrmann’s side pushed to bring themselves back into the game; Barbara Dunst looked their most promising creative source on the left wing, but Hannah Hampton was largely untested. It was from almost nothing that Austria narrowed the deficit; their first corner of the game at the half-hour mark, delivered by Katharina Naschenweng, somehow found defender Virginia Kirchberger mostly unobstructed in the box. Her header found its way in easily and the game looked briefly open.

It turned out to be a short respite as Ella Toone and Alessia Russo both had shots collected by Zinsberger in the aftermath of England conceding. Only seven minutes later, Russo sliced a short range effort with Beth Mead able to collect the ball and fire a professional finish into the top left corner. Despite a relatively quiet first half, the recently-returned Arsenal forward – and England’s key goalscorer in their successful Euros campaign – reminded the audience in Marbella of her value. It meant that in spite of brief moments of promise from Dunst and Marie Höbinger, Austria finished the half with only one shot on target to England’s six and trailing 3-1.

Sarina Wiegman was comfortable enough in her squad’s depth to make changes at the break, with Lauren James and Lotte Wubben-Moy replacing Lauren Hemp and captain Alex Greenwood. The second half started relatively quietly, but England soon ramped their efforts back up. Toone came close with an improvised outside-of-the-foot flick that dribbled across the goal, Georgia Stanway made her presence known with an audacious long-range effort that Zinsberger had to stop spinning under the bar, and it appeared a matter of time before the scoreline grew.

After fifteen minutes, the inevitable next goal came when good pressure on the Austrian backline led to a forced turnover and pass to Alessia Russo, who found herself in space for a simple, but professional finish inside the box. With a 4-1 lead there was another raft of changes: having secured her brace Russo made way, as did Niamh Charles and Grace Clinton, for Jess Carter, Rachel Daly, and Jess Park. England’s dominance was uninterrupted; a smart move from a short corner almost brought another goal for Beth Mead. It was eventually a combination of substitutes that extended the lead – less than ten minutes after their introduction, Wubben-Moy’s strong header in the box just needed a tap from Carter to guide it in, but the full back produced a classy backheel instead for only her second national goal.

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At this point the game was well out of Austria’s reach. They struggled to get on the ball for any sustained period and were unable to exploit the talents of their attacking players, despite bursts of good link-up play on the left. They looked slightly strengthened by the introduction of Nicole Billa and Annabel Schasching, and were rewarded with a consolation goal. Again from a corner, the defender Kirchberger looked sheepish as she quietly celebrated an almost identical goal to her first – rising above defenders in the box to make it 5-2. Though England’s performance can only be described as promising, Wiegman will look to build resistance against their apparent weakness defending set pieces.

That goal was little more than a lesson – the Lionesses responded with practically the next passage of play. Lauren James looked almost certain to score after storming away from two defenders, and was hard done by to see her effort bounce off the post – fortunately, Mead was at the other side of the goal to double her personal tally for the night.

Rachel Daly wrapped up proceedings with a composed finish, timing her run between the centre and right back to find herself one on one with Zinsberger and firing into the roof of the net. Though Austria’s defenders called for offside, they ultimately could have no complaints about the 7-2 scoreline.

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It was a thoroughly dominant performance from England, who should be emboldened by how fluidly and confidently they played even with relatively heavy rotation to their lineup. Wiegman’s team looked assured and professional, while Austria failed to bring the same challenge that they had in previous fixtures. 

The Lionesses face a new test on Tuesday with a second friendly against Italy kicking off at 5pm on ITV. Austria, meanwhile, will look to regroup and strategise ahead of their own friendly against Denmark on Wednesday afternoon and look.