England’s comeback kid Fran Kirby once again provides spark in Euro 2022 curtain-raiser

The comeback kid is back once again and, not for the first time, she has had to fight to get here. Arguably the most naturally-gifted English player of her generation, there was every chance that Fran Kirby would watch a Women’s Euros played in her own country from home. The Chelsea playmaker was not even thinking about playing at this tournament only a few months ago. Back then, even taking the dog for a walk was too overwhelming for her.

Kirby was struggling with fatigue, a condition that has flared up from time to time throughout her career, but hit hard in February of this year. Two months passed without her playing and she was still struggling for fitness when Emma Hayes suggested the 29-year-old would be sidelined for “the foreseeable future” in mid-April. That appeared to put Kirby’s chances of a place in this squad in serious jeopardy.

Kirby is sadly no stranger to hardship, whether that be the diagnosis of pericarditis that left her “struggling to feel human” and almost forced her into retirement two years ago, or the death of her mother Denise to a brain haemorrhage that occasioned a severe depression which threatened to end her career before it began. The stresses, doubts and uncertainties of the past few months will have felt unfortunately familiar to Kirby. And yet here she is. Again.

If any member of Sarina Wiegman’s squad knows how to come through moments of adversity, it is her. And even if she has not always produced her club form at international level, there is little doubt that England are stronger with her than without her, as her manager knows well. Whereas even Steph Houghton was left out of the squad due to a persistent Achilles injury that has troubled the former captain all season, Weigman did everything in her power to get Kirby playing. Her faith was repaid.

The England manager has earned a reputation for pragmatism in her short time in the role but set up for this curtain-raiser against Austria positively, with the intention of maintaining the sensational rate of scoring under her management, the Lionesses averaging six a game since she took charge last September. Leah Williamson was deployed in the centre of defence, rather than the double pivot role which Wiegman has tended to prefer her in for added protection, and this meant there was room to accommodate Kirby’s rare gifts.

Recommended

That did not appear too wise in the initial stages when, whether it was the tactical set-up or the occasion, England were second best. Austria were briefly superior in every department but particularly midfield, where Laura Feiersinger led a press determined to capitalise on any hint of apprehension among the Lionesses. Wiegman did not dash down to her technical area to bark instructions but watched from the back of one of Old Trafford’s red brick dugouts, waiting for her side to compose themselves.

It took a quarter of an hour or so but eventually, the pattern of the game began to align with expectation, and it was not especially surprising that when the tables turned in England’s favour, it was from an incisive Kirby pass. The clipped ball over the top of the Austrian defence that set Beth Mead through for the opening goal was exactly the finesse that much of England’s play had previously missed. It was the type of ball that a player twice recognised by her peers as the best in the country sees.

Much of England’s game plan was based around hopeful, deep crosses that were never quite weighted correctly to connect with a leaping Ellen White. Their attacks were not exactly one-dimensional but greater care and variation was needed. Kirby brought that.

Towards the end of the first half, a piercing little pass through a mass of black shirts found Lucy Bronze in space on the right-hand edge of the penalty area. Another square ball just before the half came to a close could – perhaps should – have been converted by Lauren Hemp.

As in the warm-up wins over the Netherlands and Switzerland, Kirby was removed shortly after the hour mark, with Wiegman perhaps mindful of little football she has played over the past five months.

Recommended



It was notable, once she took her place among the substitutes, how England’s play in the final third lacked the dash of guile and imagination she had brought. When the final whistle sounded, she had still set up the only goal.

The last few months have been difficult for Kirby and special care must be taken over the course of this tournament to get her back to full capacity but, as Wiegman knew full well, England need their comeback kid.

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

{{#verifyErrors}} {{message}} {{/verifyErrors}} {{^verifyErrors}} {{message}} {{/verifyErrors}}

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

{{#verifyErrors}} {{message}} {{/verifyErrors}} {{^verifyErrors}} {{message}} {{/verifyErrors}}

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Source: Read Full Article