Written by Courtney Hill (@cjhsport)
The SheBelieves Cup kicked off this week and will see England Women take on Brazil, USA and Japan over the course of a week. Nerve Sport looks at the Lionesses’ 2-1 win over Brazil and previews tonight’s USA fixture.
The first challenge for Phil Neville and his side was Brazil on Wednesday night.
With Marta, arguably the greatest footballer in the women’s game, slotting in amongst a relatively strong Brazilian squad it was no easy task.
As the World Cup draws ever closer, any chance England get to play against high-quality opposition must be relished.
However, the first-half performance they delivered against Brazil on Wednesday evening was anything but high-quality.
A lacklustre first-half
Misplaced passes, losing the ball in dangerous areas, and a failure to nullify Marta’s threat equated in a tiresome display from the Lionesses.
The high-pressure play by the Brazilians appeared to be new territory for the Lionesses and consequently resulted in them giving away a goal. Andressa Alves got the goal for Brazil from the penalty spot.
With an inexperienced international at centre-back in Abbie McManus, and a newly formed midfield pairing of Izzy Christiansen and Kiera Walsh, Neville showed his willingness to experiment with the players he has.
Perhaps because of this, a feeling of nervousness was felt throughout the first half.
However, the England players that went in at half-time were completely different from those that come out to play the second.
An inspired comeback saw Ellen White equalise almost immediately after the break.
Higher intensity, purposeful movement, and pinning Brazil back in their own half allowed England to take control of the game and execute their game plan to perfection.
It was Arsenal’s Beth Mead who arguably made the most impact from coming on as a sub. Her constant threat down the right-hand side caused numerous problems for Brazil.
Her efforts were eventually rewarded with an absolute wonder strike that flew into the top corner – it was simply unstoppable.
Was it a genuine attempt on goal? Was it a cross gone wrong (right)? Either way, it was three points secured for England.
The next game for the Lionesses will see them take on football powerhouses the USA.
In their first game of the SBC, the US drew 2-2 thanks to an inspired comeback from Japan.
Given that the USWNT defence appears fragile, Neville may fancy his attacking quartet of Nikkita Parris, Karen Carney, Ellen White, and Fran Kirby to cause major issues.
But that’s only if he opts for a similar starting XI. Neville may want to give other players a chance. Now that the Lionesses have a two-point lead in the Cup, the USA match may be the time to do so.
It could open the doors for Mead to get a start – which is arguably earned after her match-winning performance in the first game.
We could also see the likes of youngster Georgia Stanaway, USA-based Rachel Daly, or Arsenal’s Leah Williamson.
One name that simply has to be on the teamsheet is that of Fran Kirby. Time and time again she has proved just why she is so highly regarded in the game and Wednesday is no different.
Getting both assists in the comeback was just the highlight – Kirby pulls the strings in the England team. If everything is going through her, it’s probably going right.
But not even an individual masterclass can be enough to save England if they perform as they did in the first half of Brazil again.
That’s especially if it’s against a full-strength USA side with the clinical Alex Morgan leading the line, accompanied by Christen Press, Carli Lloyd and the high-flying Kelley O’Hara.
The Lionesses can’t always rely on enthralling HT team talks to carry them through to victories.
But nonetheless, it’s nice to know this team are capable of grinding out results even if they aren’t at their best.
England will take on USA tonight – kick off is 9.45pm and broadcast live on BBC2.