By Andrew Gibney.
“Special players step up in special moments,” England coach Mark Sampson told the BBC after Reading striker Fran Kirby had inspired his side to a crucial 2-1 win against Mexico at the Fifa Women’s World Cup.
It was more than just three points – it was a statement, a show of progression and a much-needed positive reaction after the limp defensive performance against France on Tuesday.Embed from Getty Images
Four years ago in Germany, Mexico held England to a draw in the group stage, anything but a win would put their chances of progression under threat and ask huge questions regarding the quality and ability of this current squad.
England started the game with the same XI that finished against France, lining up in a 4-3-3 formation, something that Sampson rarely tried through the qualification process.
It was clear after 30 minutes that it wasn’t quite having the intended affect. Toni Duggan was isolated on the left and with Kirby wide right, Eni Aluko wasn’t able to find space on the flanks that she often does so well.
Kirby enjoyed the best chance of the first half an hour, but her shot was too weak to trouble Cecilia Santiago in the Mexican goal.
Credit to the England coach, he identified the issue and made a tactical tweak, moving Duggan deeper and playing with a midfield diamond. That allowed Aluko and Kirby more space to manoeuvre, with the Chelsea forward smashing the crossbar with an excellent right-foot shot from outside the box.
For the players and the staff, it must have felt like the goal was never going to come, but a moment of magic from Kirby – nutmegging the defender with a drop of her left shoulder – saw her poke to ball beyond Santiago – the relief was there to see from the whole squad.
Patience was key to England’s 2-1 win; they didn’t lose the head, they didn’t panic. It took a moment of genius from Kirby, but the second through Carney followed. They will need to show that same level of patience against Colombia on Wednesday.
France dominated possession against Fabian Taborda’s side. However, the Colombians were happy to sit back, soak up the French pressure, and with more attacking intent than England showed, they looked to hit on the break.
The South American side won’t change their game plan for England. They will let Sampson’s side have the ball and it will be up to England to show how good they are at breaking down a stubborn defence.
Against Mexico, the Colombians looked unorganised and undisciplined. Three yellow cards and 25 fouls later, Las Tricolores knew they had been in a fight. Against France, they looked like a completely different team.
Colombia only committed nine fouls on Saturday, although the French may suggest this was down to the referee not making some calls. Most importantly, they looked organised and defended extremely well.
Nostradamus himself may have struggled to predict that Colombia v England in Montreal would be a battle for top spot. Yet, that won’t change the South American’s approach.
England have shown that they can defend as a team; for large spells on Saturday they showed they can move the ball quickly and take the game to a spirited opponent. Now, on Wednesday, they will need to show patience as they look to break down the will of the Colombians.
Three points should be enough to advance to the last 16. However, victory on Wednesday could be enough to win the group and give England the greatest chance of winning their first-ever knockout game.
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