By Andrew Gibney.
After three games of the 2015 Fifa Women’s World Cup, it’s job done for England and Mark Sampson in Group F. The 2-1 win over Colombia was a definite case of a ‘game of two halves’ but the Lionesses were too strong for the South Americans in the end.
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The group may not have played out as many had predicted, but France’s 5-0 demolition of Mexico in Ottawa on Wednesday confirmed that England would finish in second place and sets up a mouth-watering last-16 battle against Norway on Monday.
It wasn’t until after England took the lead against Colombia that their passing game came together. Before Karen Carney’s goal, it was disjointed and generally misplaced, but the confidence brought on by the opener took away the pressure and let Sampson’s side show what they are capable of with the ball at their feet.
The second goal came from a fortunate penalty, but the pressure created by England’s play before half-time almost made it a deserved outcome.
With the expansion to 24 teams, the sides are faced with a Round of 16 match for the first time; meaning that if England want to reach their goal of the quarter-finals, they need to win their first-ever knockout match at a Women’s World Cup. Their opponents, Norway, will represent the biggest test England has faced so far.
It was an interesting group stage for Even Pellerud’s side. They wiped away the cobwebs to beat Thailand 4-0 in their opening game with two goals from Isabell Herlovsen. In the first half against Germany, similar to England’s 1-0 defeat to France, the Norwegians were completely dominated by the world’s number one team.
There was no real attacking intent shown by the Scandinavians and Germany could have been three or four goals up if they hadn’t defended so well. However, the second half was much improved. Norway pushed forward, attacked down the channels and levelled the game through a stunning free-kick from Maren Mjelde.
Whatever Pellerud said to his side had clearly worked: Norway showed that they could compete at the highest level and that they will provide problems to whoever they face in the last 16. With their place in the knockout stage secured, they played at a reduced tempo against the Ivory Coast, but they did manage to get Lyon’s impressive teenage striker Ada Hegerberg – a player England will need to suppress – on the scoresheet.
At times during the tournament – especially against France and the second-half against Colombia – England have been too sloppy in the midfield with passes not finding their target and possession being given away in dangerous positions.
Norway will line up 4-3-3 and with the experience of Solveig Gulbrandsen dictating play, it gives Sampson an interesting decision to make for Monday’s match.
Playing the 4-1-4-1 that frustrated France would make sense from a point of view of matching up against their opponents, but it wouldn’t offer many problems to the Norwegians. Opting for the midfield diamond that was successful against Colombia would hopefully help the likes of Jade Moore and Jordan Nobbs from not being overrun, and also give England the impetus to push forward.
Moore was superb against Colombia and she will need to be at her best again to stop Norway controlling the game. Contain the midfield and you limit the number of times that Hegerberg will be allowed to make her trademark runs down the left flank.
Alex Scott was excellent in marking Louisa Necib out of the game against France; she was a tireless runner on Wednesday, but she will face her biggest challenge against the strength and pace of the 19-year-old forward.
England again need to show more creativity and movement in attack against a tough Norway defence, but success will begin at the back for Sampson. Keeping a clean sheet will be key – this will be a tight, nervy affair. Norway will be confident they can trouble the England backline but it is up to the Lionesses to show they can do the same.
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