KATHRYN BATTE: Rocks at the back are KEY to England’s World Cup hopes as forwards find their feet… the experience and know-how of the likes of Millie Bright and Alex Greenwood cannot be underestimated
- England’s forwards have been finding their feet at the tournament so far
- The back three have been praised for a solid defence against tricky opponents
- Experienced Millie Bright and Alex Greenwood have helped progress Lionesses
It is fair to say the excitement around this England squad ahead of the World Cup was focused on their up-and-coming young players.
The attention was on the likes of Alessia Russo, Lauren James and Lauren Hemp and whether they could sparkle on the big stage. James did, before her red card against Nigeria soured things, and Russo and Hemp are growing into the tournament.
But it is the older, wiser and more experienced heads in the defensive line that have dragged England into the semi-finals of this World Cup.
There had been concern coming into this tournament that the Lionesses lacked those traits. Ellen White and Jill Scott, who both retired after last year’s European Championship, had 274 caps between them.
But the back five, sometimes three, sometimes four is where the know-how and experience lies.
Alessia Russo and Lauren Hemp have been growing into the tournament, while the backline have been praised for their solid defence and experience at on the biggest stage
The attention was on the likes of Alessia Russo, Lauren James and Lauren Hemp and whether they could sparkle on the big stage, James did, though her red card has made her absent
The Lionesses have conceded just two goals in five games so far, one from open play and one penalty. The back three of Jess Carter, Millie Bright and Alex Greenwood was solid in England’s quarter-final win over Colombia on Saturday.
Greenwood has been Sarina Wiegman’s most consistent player Down Under and Bright is not far behind her.
Greenwood earned her 80th cap against Colombia and Bright is now on 71. Greenwood has made more successful passes than any player at this World Cup. On Saturday she attempted and completed four dribbles — a stat that would make any attacking player proud.
Bright was a tad rusty in the opening game against Haiti, with the Lionesses’ captain having not played a competitive game since March after knee surgery. But from match two onwards she has been a rock, just as she was at Euro 2022.
Carter was a fringe player last summer and is the least experienced player in Wiegman’s back line with just 18 caps. But the Chelsea defender has looked assured and composed alongside her two centre-back partners.
Lucy Bronze and Rachel Daly have had to adapt to new wing-back roles with England’s switch to a 3-4-1-2 formation since their third game against China.
There are still defensive vulnerabilities, with both full backs pushed to the limit so far during the knockout stages.
But, along with the three centre backs, Bronze and Daly’s experience was key to England seeing out extra time against Nigeria with 10 players in the last 16 and closing out their quarter-final against Colombia.
England have conceded just two goals in five games so far, one from open play and one penalty, and the back three of Jess Carter, Millie Bright and Alex Greenwood have been solid
With 110 caps, Bronze is the most experienced player in this team and Daly is on 74
Goalkeeper Mary Earps had only played eight times for her country before Wiegman was appointed in 2021, but now she is one of the Lionesses’ most invaluable players
‘We know how difficult it is to get this far and we know how to get to the final and win games,’ said Bronze. ‘Our performances haven’t been our best, granted, but the results have been there and we’ve got to the semi-final, which is what this England team is known for doing.’
With 110 caps, Bronze is the most experienced player in this team and Daly is on 74. It is when England’s backs are against the wall, as they often have been at this World Cup, that they respond.
It is almost as if players such as Bright enjoy having the kitchen sink thrown at them. She and Greenwood thrive in that environment.
‘Ultimately we can grind it out,’ said Bright. ‘The games aren’t always as fancy but it’s always about the result and getting the job done.’
Lucy Bronze and Rachel Daly have had to adapt to new wing-back roles with England’s switch to a 3-4-1-2 formation since their third game against China in which they beat them 6-1
Goalkeeper and vice-captain Mary Earps has also been crucial to England’s defensive resilience. Earps, 30, has only 39 caps but leads by example.
Earps had only played eight times for her country before Wiegman was appointed as manager in 2021, but now she is one of the Lionesses’ most important players.
She marshalls the back line, is strong in the air and can be relied upon to make crucial saves — even if she has gone long periods of the game without having to do so.
England may have struggled for goals at times during this tournament, but their defensive line has been strong and reliable. Only a penalty for China and a goal by Colombia’s Leicy Santos which was intended as a cross have made it past Earps.
The Lionesses will need their experienced heads to guide them through again if they are to beat hosts Australia in Wednesday’s semi-final.
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