England did just enough to scrape past the Netherlands in a must-win encounter at Wembley Stadium – but Sarina Wiegman’s side are still being punished for costly mistakes.
With Olympic qualification on behalf of Team GB in the balance, England found the “something extra” Wiegman demanded of them in the second half of their 3-2 comeback win over the Netherlands on Friday night.
But, as has been the case for several months, England made hard work of it, falling 2-0 down after 35 minutes to a double from Lineth Beerensteyn, in large part due to defensive errors.
Centre-back Jess Carter and full-back Lucy Bronze were beaten too easily for the opener, before goalkeeper Mary Earps let the ball slip through her grasp for Beerensteyn’s second as England’s midfield was bypassed with ease yet again.
“I was very disappointed they scored the second goal because I didn’t think we played badly [in the first half],” said manager Wiegman.
“On the second goal, we were a little bit unlucky, it was an unnecessary goal. We didn’t play badly but we needed some more. We truly believed we could turn it around. We never lost trust.”
Wiegman pleased but knew desired result ‘was close’
Thankfully, England did turn it around.
Bayern Munich midfielder Georgia Stanway headed in Lauren James’ cross just before the hour mark and Lauren Hemp’s low strike nestled into the corner two minutes later to make it 2-2.
Substitute Ella Toone then came off the bench to provide a much-needed moment of quality when she struck it past goalkeeper Daphne van Domselaar for the winning goal in stoppage time.
But England’s victory did not feel like one at full-time as goalkeeper Earps was consoled by team-mates, while others fell to the floor with a mixture of relief and exhaustion.
Earps said she had “cost the team” with her mistake for the Netherlands’ second goal and Wiegman said the victory came with a tinge of disappointment having not scored another goal to improve their Olympic qualification hopes.
England must reach the Women’s Nations League final – or finish third if Olympic hosts France get there – to qualify on behalf of Team GB for the 2024 Paris Olympics.
They will reach the semi-finals if they beat Scotland in their final group game on Tuesday and the Netherlands drop points in their final match with Belgium.
Even if the Netherlands beat Belgium at home, England could still go through if they defeat the Scots by a sufficiently large scoreline to take their goal difference above the Dutch.
However, a 4-2 win over the Netherlands on Friday could have kept qualification within England’s control and would have bettered their head-to-head record with the Dutch, meaning a victory by any margin over Scotland would have been enough.
“The team knows exactly what we need to do and I thought we were very close,” added Wiegman.
“That was the disappointment. I was happy we turned around the game but we were so close to 4-2. I’m really proud of the team and how we stepped up, showed resilience and turned around the game.
“We can’t control what the Netherlands do against Belgium but we can try our best to get a good win and see what happens after that.”
‘There were warning signs of a performance like this’
England ultimately left Wembley Stadium with a victory and three points but their performance did little to quieten growing concerns.
Having lost only once in Wiegman’s first 30 matches in charge, they have now lost three of their past six and have kept just one clean sheet in eight matches.
Individual errors are becoming more frequent, while question marks over Wiegman’s best side remain.
“I’m speechless right now at what I am seeing,” former England goalkeeper Karen Bardsley told BBC Radio 5 Live in the first half.
“I just keep flicking through what we have seen in my mind and cannot believe it. I don’t want to bring doom and gloom but it is just not good enough.
“There were warning signs of a performance like this, even through the World Cup. With injuries and absences, it seemed like Sarina Wiegman didn’t quite know her best side and it has culminated in what we have seen tonight.”
While England’s level certainly improved in the second half, ex-England midfielder Karen Carney said Wiegman had “got it wrong” with her initial team selection.
Arsenal striker Alessia Russo was left on the bench, with Lauren Hemp playing as a centre-forward, while Carter was the chosen replacement for the injured centre-back Millie Bright.
“Tactically [England have] been out-done,” Carney told ITV at half-time. “England have credit from other campaigns, but this one has been really disappointing.”
With work still to be done at Hampden Park against Scotland on Tuesday, Wiegman said she was not concerned by England’s performances and did not think Friday’s display was a repeat of previous mistakes.
“No, this was a totally different game against a very good opponent,” added Wiegman.
“The first goal was just a great counter-attack. For example, in the Belgium game, we lost the ball at moments we absolutely didn’t expect to. We had much fewer moments like that [against the Netherlands]. We did a lot better than the other games.”