Northern Ireland 0 England 5: World Cup qualification within touching distance for Euro contenders

The Lionesses are on the cusp of reaching another big tournament but first turn their attention to attempting to join an illustrious list of host nations to win the European Championships, writes Martin Whiteley.

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England motored on in their quest to make next year’s World Cup finals in Australia and New Zealand with another dominant display away to Northern Ireland.

In front of a record crowd of 15,348 for a women’s game at Windsor Park, England ran out 5-0 winners – ending their opponents’ qualification hopes in the process.

Lauren Hemp started and finished the opening goal after 26 minutes. After driving forward to the edge of the penalty area, she played the ball out left for Ella Toone. The ball came back to the Manchester City wide player, and she looped the ball just inside the back post.

The visitors doubled their advantage seven minutes after the interval. A ball into the box from the right by Lucy Bronze evaded players from both sides before Toone slotted it home.

A third goal came the way of the Lionesses at the hour mark. Returning captain Leah Williamson with a through-ball that Hemp latched onto before dancing around goalkeeper Jackie Burns for her double.

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Toone added to her impressive evening when she set up Georgia Stanway for the fourth with 20 minutes remaining, before Hemp headed the ball back across goal for her City team-mate to add a second and complete the rout nine minutes later.

This latest win for England was their eighth straight Group D success, and they have now scored 68 goals without conceding. An 8-0 victory for second-placed Austria at home to Latvia delayed the final confirmation of England securing their place down under in 2023.

With two games remaining, the Lionesses hold a five-point advantage over their closest and next rivals but with World Cup qualifying on hold until September, the attention for the Lionesses turns to preparations for the home Euros starting in July.

After a heartbreaking ending to the 2019 World Cup and not having qualifiers against lesser sides shortly after to blow the cobwebs away, England stagnated. Poor performances, Covid-19 disruption, and a coaching upheaval did not help.

With the usual structured format now back in place and with a manager with the winning mentality of Sarina Wiegman at the helm, the Lionesses are finally back on track.

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The former Netherlands midfielder would probably still like to see her side be more clinical in front of goal given the number of chances they create; just forcing the opposition goalkeeper into producing more saves would be a start.

Their performances in winning the recent Arnold Clark Cup against quality teams like Spain — the other side yet to concede a goal in qualifying after they defeated Scotland 2-0 — showed the pedigree England have.

Since the 1980s, four host nations have been the last team standing in the Euros — Norway in 1987; West Germany, as they were known then, achieved the feat two years later; before a reunified Germany pulled it off in 2001; and the Netherlands were the last side to do it five years ago under none other than Wiegman.

If they can keep producing these types of performances and avoid the dreaded injury bug, then there is hope that England can also add their name to the list.

Follow Martin on Twitter @673Martin

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