Alessia Russo and Mead at the double in Lionesses’ 7-2 mauling of Austria

<span><a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Alessia Russo;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Alessia Russo</a> gets <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:England;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">England</a> off to a flying start against Austria in the third minute.</span><span>Photograph: Fran Santiago/The FA/Getty Images</span>

England’s fresh start, as they prepare to get their Euro 2025 qualifying campaign under way in April, kicked off in style as Sarina Wiegman tried out a number of players who have sat on the fringes of a squad that has moved from tournament to tournament with little room for experimentation.

“Very happy with Grace [Clinton], she scored a goal which is very nice for her,” said Wiegman. “She plays like a natural. She picks up the things we talk about very quickly. She takes things on board and just goes out there and plays.”

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If the Lionesses have enjoyed the luxuries of a seafront Marbella hotel this week, arriving at the Estadio Nuevo Mirador was a more humbling experience. Around 950 fans had made the trip to Algeciras, about an hour’s drive south of Marbella, and were treated to a downpour that saw many retreat from the uncovered stand long before the end of the first half, while the covered stand opposite remained mostly empty.

The Lionesses’ decision to play Austria in a friendly at a ground so difficult to get to – and more akin to stadiums they were forced into pre-professionalism – was an odd one. Wiegman’s side brought style and flair to the drab surroundings though and Alessia Russo’s goal in the third minute ensured the fans saw at least one Euro 2022 winner on the scoresheet. The Arsenal forward spun and found her clubmate Beth Mead. Her shot was parried by Manuela Zinsberger but Russo was there to turn in. There were four changes to the team which had put six past Scotland in December but failed to progress to the Nations League finals and earn Olympic qualification.

One was enforced late on, with Fran Kirby withdrawn as a precaution after the warm-up with an aggravation of her knee injury. Ella Toone replaced her, while Hannah Hampton started in goal.

Maya Le Tissier began the game at right-back in place of Lucy Bronze and the Manchester United midfielder Grace Clinton, who is on loan at Tottenham, was handed her debut.

She went close to scoring in the 16th minute, hitting a left-footed effort off the inside of the crossbar. She would only have to wait three minutes for a dream scenario though, as she artfully headed in Lauren Hemp’s cross from the left.

Austria were poor, looking a shadow of the side that really tested England in the opening game of Euro 22 at Old Trafford, but Wiegman’s side also made them look bad. Despite England’s dominance, Austria exposed a weakness from set pieces to pull one back, Virginia Kirchberger heading in from a corner on her 99th appearance. The Lionesses picked up where they left off though, restoring their two-goal lead before the break, Mead powering her shot home after cutting inside. Wiegman made two half-time changes, intent on taking advantage of this friendly to experiment. “We have the opportunity to play these friendlies, see many players, lots that we saw today, many new combinations. We have another on Tuesday, which will be tough against Italy,” she said.

Lotte Wubben-Moy entered the fray in place of Alex Greenwood, while Lauren James, who was involved in five of England’s nine goals across their two December games, replaced Hemp.

Just past the hour mark, Russo grabbed her second, firing home from inside the box. There were three more changes almost immediately after that, with Russo replaced by Rachel Daly and Jess Park and Carter coming on. Carter added to England’s goal tally within seven minutes of stepping on to the pitch, a slick backheel bamboozling Zinsberger.

Kirchberger provided another headed goal from a corner to show England exactly where the defensive gaps are – though they are missing their first-choice centre-back pairing Leah Williamson and Millie Bright. However, a minute later James raced clear and hit a low shot off the bottom of the post that Mead powered in on the rebound. The substitute Daly added a seventh, sprinting free through the middle before powering a venomous strike past Zinsberger.

Job done, new combinations tested, there were a lot of positives from England’s first game of 2024 – how they deal with set pieces and stiffer opposition are questions that can be answered at a later date.