Centurion Ellen White hits winner against Austria as England maintain perfect World Cup qualifying record

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White is congratulated by her team-mates after edging closer to the goal-scoring record - GETTY IMAGES
White is congratulated by her team-mates after edging closer to the goal-scoring record - GETTY IMAGES

England 1 Austria 0

England head coach Sarina Wiegman hailed striker Ellen White’s “incredible achievement” as the Lionesses’ No 9 reached 100 caps and marked the occasion by netting the winning goal in a slender but deserved victory over Austria.

Manchester City’s White was in the right place at the right time to angle home the decider six minutes before half-time and edge closer to becoming England’s record goalscorer. White moved into outright second position on the all-time top scorer’s list with her 45th goal, one ahead of former Liverpool, Crewe and Croydon striker Kerry Davis and just one behind former Arsenal player Kelly Smith’s all-time record of 46.

In a game played in swirling wind and near-freezing temperatures at the Stadium of Light in the wake of Storm Arwen, England were unable to add to their tally in a fairly quiet second half but they did enough to claim a fifth win from five Women’s World Cup qualifiers under Dutch coach Wiegman so far. White is likely to have chances to add to her tally again when England host minnows Latvia on Tuesday.

Baroness Sue Campbell presents Ellen White of England with a commemorative shirt marking her 100 appearances for England - GETTY IMAGES
Baroness Sue Campbell presents Ellen White of England with a commemorative shirt marking her 100 appearances for England - GETTY IMAGES

Asked about White’s chances of breaking Smith’s record, Wiegman, who is unbeaten in charge of England said: “It’s a matter of time, we’re very excited. It shows the consistency she has; [100 caps] is just an incredible achievement. If you’ve got 100 caps, you’ve been so consistent. I’ve learnt to know Ellen as a really professional player, and still she wants to become better every day. That’s really special.”

White, who also scored on her senior international debut against the same opponents in March 2010, said: “It’s come full circle for me in terms of making my debut against Austria, and I’m very proud to have represented my country 100 times, and to be part of this team surrounded by such talented players.”

This is indeed a talented England group and, after emphatic wins over North Macedonia (8-0), Luxembourg (10-0), Northern Ireland (4-0) and Latvia (10-0), on Saturday they were up against the highest-ranked opponents of their qualifying campaign, with Austria ranked 21st in the world. The sides will meet again in the opening fixture of next summer’s Euros at Old Trafford on July 6, and they both reached the semi-finals four years ago at Euro 2017 in Holland, so this fixture gave Wiegman the perfect, in-person scouting opportunity.

She saw her side come up against a hard-working team who proved tricky to break down at times, but their talismanic striker, White, instinctively volleyed them in front after a quiet first half an hour. Lauren Hemp’s cross from the left led to a shot from Fran Kirby, whose initial effort was blocked but it bounced straight back out to the Chelsea forward and she flicked the ball across to White, who was in exactly the right place in front of goal to divert the ball into the net from close range.

Prior to this game, England had conceded only one shot on target in Wiegman’s tenure, which came right at the start of their opener against North Macedonia, meaning they had gone more than 400 minutes without seeing an opponent have a shot on target by the time that Austria reached half-time without one.

However, soon after the restart, England goalkeeper Mary Earps was tested for the first time in the campaign as the visitors stepped up the pace and the Manchester United shot-stopper passed the test, palming Maria Plattner’s effort wide after Bayern Munich midfielder Sarah Zadrazil’s well-timed through ball, in between saves from Barbara Dunst from long range.

“Those saves were difference-makers,” Wiegman said. “There were hard moments because she [Earps] didn’t have to do very much, and it was really cold, she had to concentrate and stay warm. They [Austria] were becoming dangerous so we needed Mary, they were very good saves, very important ones.”

With five minutes to go, full-back Rachel Daly’s sweet, low strike was turned behind after a lay-off from White, but the hosts had to settle for a 1-0 victory. Chelsea’s creative forward Kirby was the brightest spark on a bitterly cold afternoon, with her movement, close control and vision central to the majority of England’s attacking moves.

Kirby sang White’s praises: “Ellen’s an amazing player. I know if I put the ball in that area she’s going to put the ball in the back of the net. You want someone who is going to run to the death for you and that’s something she does incredibly well. We’re all really proud of her getting her 100th cap and really proud to have been on the pitch when she did it.”

Victory lifted the Lionesses five points clear of second-placed Austria at the top of Group D at the halfway stage in the campaign, moving them closer to their expected qualification for 2023’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.

Match details

England (4-1-4-1): Earps 7; Daly 7, Bright 7, Greenwood 7, Stokes 6 (Carter 90+2); Walsh 8; Mead 6 (Parris 70), Kirby 9, Toone 6 (Stanway 63), Hemp 6; White 8.
Substitutes not used: Charles, MacIver (g), Wubben-Moy, Nobbs, England, Scott, Hampton (g), Russo, Zelem.
Goal: White (39).
Austria (4-3-3): Zinsberger 7; Wienroither 6, Wenninger 7, Kirchberger 6, Hanshaw 6; Zadrazil 7, Puntigam 6, Plattner 7 (Hobinger 89); Dunst 7, Billa 6 (Enzinger 87), Naschenweng 5 (Wienerrolther 59).
Substitutes not used: El Sherif (g), Pal (g), Horvat, Fuchs, Schiechtl, Triendl, Georgieva, Eder, Schasching.
Referee: Kateryna Monzul (Ukraine).
Attendance: 9,159.

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