England secured their first SheBelieves Cup with a convincing 3-0 victory over Japan, sending a message to their rivals ahead of the summer’s World Cup, writes Tom Dean.
The Lionesses arrived in Tampa in the knowledge that a win would be enough to see them lift the trophy and raced out of the blocks with goals from Lucy Staniforth, Karen Carney and Beth Mead inside the opening half an hour.
The result is perhaps the most telling indicator of how far the team has come since being knocked out of the World Cup by the same opponents in 2015.
England, who are now ranked fourth in the world, will face Japan in the World Cup Group Stages in June and the early signs are there that they will be more than up to the task.Embed from Getty Images
A comeback win against Brazil, who lost all of their matches, set England on the right path before a draw against world champions USA proved they were ready to mix it with the best.
The USA finished as runners-up, drawing their first two games before beating Brazil on the final day.
Tom Dean looks back at how England clinched the SheBelieves title:
England 2-1 Brazil
A shaky start against Brazil in the opener meant the Lionesses found themselves a goal behind early on, Andressa Alves firing home a controversial penalty.
Lucy Bronze looked to have won the ball cleanly from six-time FIFA World Player of the Year Marta and Phil Neville’s side could have been forgiven for feeling hard done by at half-time.Embed from Getty Images
Rather than dwell on what had gone before, the Lionesses showed their class and drew level just three minutes into the second half – Ellen White with an excellent low finish across the goalkeeper.
With England in the ascendancy for the remainder of the match, the stage was set for them to go on and win it.
And they did it in style. Beth Mead produced a thunderous strike from a tight angle, the power and placement giving Villares Reis no hope in the Brazil goal. A goal worthy of winning any match.
England 2-2 USA
Waiting in the second round were hosts, holders and 2015 World Cup winners the USA.
England again fell behind, Megan Rapinoe scoring a stunning volley past Karen Bardsley.
Though the Lionesses weren’t behind for long, levelling with a stunner of their own. Captain Steph Houghton steered an indirect free-kick in the penalty area around the wall and into the bottom corner.Embed from Getty Images
A Nikita Parris strike gave England the lead in the second half, the Manchester City striker finishing off a brilliant passage of play involving Lucy Bronze and Fran Kirby.
Tobin Heath capitalised on some suspect defending from a corner to level with just over 20 minutes remaining but neither side could find a winner.
England 3-0 Japan
Phil Neville showed his faith in his squad as he made eight changes to the starting 11 that faced USA just three days earlier.
It didn’t take long for those changes to ring true either. England took lead just over 10 minutes in when Lucy Staniforth got on the end of a Jodie Taylor reverse pass, making space for herself to fire a shot from just outside the area into the bottom corner.
Taylor was in the mood for more assists too; she did well to produce a pinpoint chipped cross to Karen Carney to head home a second.Embed from Getty Images
It was 3-0 before the half-hour mark. Keira Walsh’s raking pass cut the Japanese defence to ribbons, allowing Beth Mead to get into the box, shift the ball onto her left foot and rifle it into the back of the net.
Carly Telford was called into action on a few occasions in the second half and did well to keep a clean sheet, but England’s lead was never really under threat from an opponent they may well now fancy their chances against when they meet again in France.
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