England secured qualification for the last 16 of the Women’s World Cup as Jodie Taylor’s second-half goal saw them beat Argentina 1-0 in Le Havre, Ella Jerman looks at the main talking points from their second group fixture.
Lionesses prove their hunger to succeed
One-nil. Three points. Two successive group victories for England. The win looks good on paper, but it was far from a smooth ride.
The Group D underdogs, who managed to hold 2015 runners-up Japan to a 0-0 draw earlier in the week, seemed intent on making proceedings as difficult as possible for the Lionesses with their compact defensive set-up and niggling attempts to frustrate England’s big attacking names from the offset.
They dominated the game with 76% possession, forcing Argentina to retreat further and further into their own half as the clock ticked down, but England were made to battle for the three points.
It took time, but to the delight of the Lionesses fans, England did what they have failed to do in the past and showed remarkable patience to unlock the most stubborn of defences.
To win a World Cup, you need to know how to grind out a win. Thankfully, England have proved they can do exactly that.
Taylor adds No 9 competition
It was far from the most remarkable of strikes but Taylor’s 61st-minute tap-in could make a world of difference to this England side.
Ahead of Friday evening, the Euro 2017 Golden Boot winner had failed to score an international goal since April 2018 – or in her last 363 minutes of football.
Phil Neville’s decision to start her against Argentina divided opinion after Ellen White’s superb performance against the Scots but given that Argentina are likely the lowest-ranked side England will face in the tournament, perhaps it was the best possible opportunity for her to restore her goalscoring confidence.
It’s all very well having depth to the squad, but only if you know those waiting on the sidelines will perform.
Taylor once again proved she can step up to the big occasion and having her as a reliable option could prove crucial to England’s World Cup title hopes.
Jill Scott leads the charge
Jill Scott made her 14th World Cup appearance against Argentina on Friday night, a record for an England player in the competition – and you can easily see why she’s still around.
She’s the box-to-box midfielder every team wants to have. She is the heartbeat of the England midfield, pulling the strings, breaking up play and her relentless energy makes her a headache for any opposition player to mark.
She’s also an attacking force to be reckoned with, driving the ball from deep to inspire England’s winning goal – and even coming close to scoring a header or two herself.
But the reason Jill Scott was so influential to the Lionesses on Friday was her infectious grit and determination to match the stubborn Argentinian aggression.
While her temper did waver at times, pushing an opposition player in retaliation to her stepping on her toes, the Manchester City midfielder contested more duels (21) than any other player on the pitch.
Correa is Argentina’s safety valve
England ran out with the three points, but few would disagree it was the Argentina goalkeeper, Vanina Correa, who delivered the performance of the match.
Argentina, who sit 34 places below England in the FIFA rankings, were impressive, given their troubled recent history as a team, but Correa was by far their standout player.
For the most part of 90 minutes, the 35-year-old keeper looked unbeatable, diving well to her left to keep out Nikita Parris’ penalty before reacting quickly to keep out Arsenal striker Beth Mead with a sprawling left foot.
With England producing 17 shots in comparison to Argentina’s two, the final scoreline certainly flattered the South American side – and they’ll certainly be thanking Correa for giving them a fighting chance.
England’s team spirit shines through
The Lionesses aren’t just exceptional footballers – they are exceptional humans too.
For Chelsea’s Fran Kirby, the match carried extra meaning – it would have been her late mother’s birthday – while goalkeeper Carly Telford made her first World Cup appearance after 12 years of waiting in the wings – just one year after she lost her own mother to cancer.
Following the victory in Le Havre, scenes of raw emotion proved how well the group have bonded in France, Neville hugging tearful forward Kirby, who was only 14 when her mother died after a sudden brain haemorrhage in 2014.
Neville dedicated the victory to the late mothers of Kirby and Telford, telling his players: “We are a family”.
Follow Ella on Twitter at @ellajerman