England v Spain preview: Lionesses to capitalise on rivals’ injuries and reach semi-finals with Wiegman in dugout
The manager will be back patrolling the touchline as the Lionesses return to their happy hunting ground of Brighton’s Amex Stadium tonight at 8pm and look to dump pre-tournament favourites Spain, writes Um-E-Aymen Babar.Embed from Getty Images
Still riding the high of an incredible 5-0 victory over Northern Ireland last Friday, the Lionesses will be heading into their battle against Spain full of confidence – and further boosted by the news that manager Sarina Wiegman is back in the dugout for this quarter-final showdown.
The FA have confirmed that the England coach can now resume full duties after testing negative for Covid, however she will have been pleased that her absence didn’t seem to make much of a difference in the final match of Group A and the team still produced a stellar performance. In tonight’s quarter-final, Wiegman will be looking to build on their record-breaking 8-0 score against Norway the last time they were at Amex Stadium in Brighton by beating pre-tournament favourites Spain.
England have proven themselves to not only be ruthless but multifaceted in the goals they score. They’ve come into the match as standout group winners, and will take confidence from Beth Mead’s current crown as the competition’s top scorer, having scored five goals in three games. Jorge Vilda’s Spain, meanwhile, may not be as confident. While they defeated both Denmark and Finland in their group, against stronger German opposition they suffered their first Euros defeat, losing 2-0.
Spain have never won a tournament nor reached the final but had been tipped to win the Euros, with Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas set to shine. But with ‘La Reina’ out, and England led by Euro-winning Wiegman as coach, plus the form of Ellen White and Mead to boot, the Lionesses have found themselves outshining their main rivals for the crown on home soil. This match is sure to be a tough meeting: both teams are vying for a spot in the semi-finals of the Euros, for the fifth time in both England and Spain’s respective team histories.
Wiegman has kept the same line-up selection for each of England’s three matches so far and, given their incredible performances, there is little reason to suggest this will change. However, Spain have been switching it up and are harder to predict for England’s tacticians. Left-back Olga Carmona and winger Marta Cardona both came on as substitutes against Denmark, helping their team to secure a much-needed win to progress from Group B.
Key battle: Mapi Leon v Mead
Spain need to be careful not to get caught out at the back, as we saw with Mapi Leon in their tepid win over Denmark and you know in-form Mead will take advantage of any vulnerability in defence. England forward Lauren Hemp will also need to use this space to create their chances, working tactically with Keira Walsh whose long-ranging shots towards them will be key for securing a victory. A big battle between the teams will be over the possession of the ball. Both teams like to dominate in this area: England and Spain had 78 per cent and 74 per cent possession respectively in their previous games, so being methodical and organised will be paramount to taking the victory. If England remain as organised as they have been, they could see a replica of the Euro 2017 match where they beat Spain 2-0, despite only having 22 per cent of the possession during the match.
England keeper Hannah Hampton has been ruled out of the quarter-finals after testing positive for Covid. The Aston Villa goalie had not yet participated in the tournament and is now the third person in the England camp to have tested positive for the virus.
A much-discussed absence in the tournament so far, Spain have also lost their crucial player Putellas after she suffered an ACL injury hours before the first game. Forward favourite Jennifer Hermoso is also out, and this could leave crucial gaps for Spain giving England the upper hand. However, team-mates Mariona Caldentey and Aitana Bonmati have not disappointed filling in for Putellas.
Last five results (all competitions)
England: WWWWW Spain: WLWDW
England wins: 6 Spain wins: 3 Draws: 6
20/02/2022: Spain 0-0 England (Arnold Clark Cup)
11/03/2020: Spain 1-0 England (SheBelieves Cup)
Game changer: Walsh or White?
If England decide to play to Spain’s possession-based game, sitting deep and counter-attacking to catch the Spanish defence off-guard – as they did in the Euro 2017 match-up – then Walsh will be the game changer with her long pinging balls up to England’s strikers. But if England continue to use the high press which has brought them so much success under Wiegman, especially in the Euros group stages, then White’s ability to chase down any loose balls from Sandra Panos’s distribution will be key. White is known for her doggedness and high-energy commitment, and this could be the match where she adds to her competition goal tally, equals the England goalscoring record with Wayne Rooney, and further silences those who doubted her place in the England side at the start of the tournament.Embed from Getty Images
Prediction: England 4 Spain 1
England have taken over as favourites of the tournament and following their previous games, this is rightfully so. Spain have not been able to hit top gear without Putellas and Jenni Hermoso. With England’s strikers in magnificent form, and able to shine in a home stadium, which will bring back euphoric memories of the mammoth 8-0 victory over Norway, it’s the Lionesses who will come out on top.
Follow Um-E-Aymen Babar on Twitter @ItsUmeAymen
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