Kirby may have sealed a famous victory for the Lionesses but their crowning achievement is having a cool and collected manager in the hotseat who’s breeding confidence ahead of the Euros, writes Jessy Parker Humphreys.Embed from Getty Images
If England were concerned that inviting three top 10 teams to play could be a bit of a dampener before they headed into a home Euros, they needn’t have worried. After two controlled draws against Canada and Spain, the Lionesses lifted the Arnold Clark Cup thanks to a 3-1 victory over Germany which showed that maybe for all Sarina Wiegman had played these games down in terms of competitiveness, she still wanted to win.
Ellen White opened the scoring with a well-worked goal, while a fantastic solo effort by Fran Kirby after picking the ball up inside her own half in the 94th minute epitomised this much more confident England side. But it was Millie Bright’s goal in between the two that showed how much Wiegman wanted to win this competition. After all, throwing your centre-back up the pitch to play as a striker late on is the kind of thing you expect to see in a major final and hardly screams ‘not bothered’.
England have never liked playing Germany. One win in 26 matches prior to tonight attested to that. They never looked overawed, though, on their way to beating their old rivals for the first time on home soil. There is the caveat that this is not a full-strength Germany, but it is hardly a weak one. In reality, it has been true throughout this tournament that against the elite opposition assembled this week, England have never been outplayed. They were unable to play any full 90 minutes with total control, but that is to be expected when you are playing teams like Canada, Spain and Germany.Embed from Getty Images
Wiegman has always claimed that these matches were less about competing and more about gathering “information”. If there is one word you can put money on the manager mentioning in a press conference it is that. “We are trying out things,” she said after the opening game against Canada. Ahead of this game, she said: “I think we’re getting there, and taking steps. I think we’re developing very well.”
That was probably an understatement. Over the course of these three games, it feels like almost everything Wiegman has turned her hand to has worked. Whether handing Hannah Hampton her debut against the Euros favourites or trialling the Keira Walsh and Leah Williamson midfield, England have consistently looked secure in the knowledge of what they are doing. Even, in fact, when she pushed Bright up to play as a striker. Within a minute, the Chelsea star had given England the lead and was promptly tucked back into defence alongside Williamson.Embed from Getty Images
What unites all of these decisions is an overwhelming belief that they must be the right thing to do. And that attitude is breeding confidence. By the time England reached the game against Germany, they were playing with a swagger that you would more commonly associate with watching this set of players at club level. It was there in the opening minutes when Williamson spun away from the two German players pressing her with ease. Walsh casually rolled the ball around the back of her heel to get out of a tight spot. Georgia Stanway chested down a Kirby cross and volleyed it; she was merely unfortunate it was straight at Merle Frohms in the Germany goal.
When you see their manager though, it is hardly a surprise that the team plays like this. Wiegman exudes calmness and control, and it feels impossible that some of that would not rub off on her players. She approaches every press conference with a kind of bemused studiousness that feels very different from the nervous energy of Hege Riise or brash confidence of Phil Neville.Embed from Getty Images
None of this guarantees that England will win the tournament all this preparation has been for. After all, as Wiegman herself said: “There are so many favourite teams to win the Euros.” The Germany match showed there are still plenty of things to work on. England looked susceptible when defending set-pieces. They struggled to figure out how to keep control of the space Lucy Bronze left behind when she pushed up the pitch. There are hints of an over-reliance on giving the ball to Lauren Hemp so she can dribble.
“When we start on July 6th, we want to be as prepared as possible,” said Wiegman. “We want to get players on the pitch who know how to collaborate. By July 6th, that must be really clear.” As Williamson lifted the Arnold Clark Cup trophy at Molineux, it felt like in some ways it already was.
Follow Jessy on Twitter @jessyjph