England 8-0 North Macedonia
New Dutch coach sees side put eight past minnows in match packed full of chances for hosts
Hosts lack ruthless edge for most of the match as Rechi in the visitors goals prevents cricket scoreline
England began life under new head Sarina Wiegman full of smiles as they cruised to the easiest of victories at home to North Macedonia, but the Dutch coach felt her side should have scored even more than the eight goals they produced.
Wiegman will undoubtedly face far tougher tests than Friday’s visiting minnows, who are ranked 131st in the world, but an unrelenting attacking display from the Lionesses gave them a welcome morale boost and the ideal start to the qualifying campaign for the 2023 Women’s World Cup.
England were full of energy and confidence at Southampton's St Mary's Stadium, but in truth were somewhat wasteful, against a side who were beaten 11-0 by France last year. Wiegman’s team created sufficient chances to match that rout and, while she praised her new team’s performance, she felt they should have been more clinical.
“The performance was OK, it was good," she said. “We wanted to create a lot of chances. We scored eight but we should have scored lots more goals. We should have been a little better in the final third, the final decision, the final touch to score the goal, but I’m proud of the team.”
Before Wiegman’s arrival in the job on September 1, England had reached the semi-finals of their past three consecutive major tournaments, and her task is to try and take them to that elusive next step and win a piece of major silverware, something she managed four years ago on home soil with her home country, Holland. But they have needed a lift, after disappointingly losing nine of their past 14 games stretching back to 2019's World Cup semi-final.
This qualification process for the World Cup should be routine, in a group that also includes Northern Ireland, Austria, Latvia and Tuesday’s opponents, Luxembourg. And the amateur status of all but two of the North Macedonia players meant this opening qualifier was always going to be more about Wiegman getting a chance to assess the squad she has inherited.
However, she has not been able to select many of the regular starters, with right-back Lucy Bronze (knee), goalkeeper Ellie Roebuck and holding midfielder Keira Walsh (both calf) among a lengthy list of injury absentees. That list was added to on Thursday, when captain Steph Houghton sustained an ankle injury.
Houghton’s absence meant the armband was given to Arsenal’s Leah Williamson for the first time, and the 24-year-old duly created the opening goal.
Her neat pass for Manchester United playmaker Ella Toone gave the 22-year-old her second goal in Toone’s third senior England appearance, as her low finish opened the floodgates. A first-time finish from Manchester City striker Ellen White, low into the bottom corner with her left foot, made it 2-0, before a scrappy own goal from Julija Zivikj at the far post after a corner made it 3-0 moments before half-time.
White, Hemp and Arsenal’s Beth Mead all repeatedly went close, as the hosts dominated, and White eventually added the fourth from the penalty spot, firing in low under the goalkeeper’s dive, shortly before substitute Jill Scott hit the crossbar.
Also coming off the bench, winger Nikita Parris’ delivery was palmed out to Chelsea forward Beth England for the fifth goal, before Mead’s dangerous cross led to a Sara Kolarovska own goal for the sixth. As the visitors tired, England headed home her second in the final minute of the 90 before Mead’s efforts were rewarded with a well-taken low finish to make it eight.
The Lionesses were playing in front of home supporters for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began and they were roared on by an excited crowd of 8,214, who sounded like they thoroughly enjoyed the one-sided affair, dancing to ‘Sweet Caroline’ and chanting along with the England fans’ band, in one of the venues that will stage an group-stage game for England at next summer’s Women’s European Championships. They entertained them with their biggest margin of victory since an 8-0 win away to Estonia in September 2015.
Wiegman, who also led the Dutch to the 2019 final, added that she is looking forward to facing sterner tests to aid England’s growth, saying: “I hope we will improve and improve, and we need some opponents that are of a higher standard than tonight, that are really attacking all the time. Then we can continue building and adding things to our game. Against a top-ranking team it’s going to be different. What we know is we need to finish better than we did today. We can be a little bit more composed, more connected, those little things, so we can learn from that and bring that to a higher level, so that even against a better opponent, we can score too.”
England (4-3-3): Earps; Daly (Charles, 82), Bright (Wubben-Moy, 63), Greenwood, Stokes; Stanway (England, 71), Williamson, Toone; Mead, White (Scott, 72), Hemp (Parris, 63) Subs not used: MacIver (gk), Zelem, Staniforth, Telford (gk), Salmon, Carter,
Yellow cards: None
North Macedonia (4-5-1): Rechi; Poliziani, Kolarovska, Nikolovska, Zivikj; Saliihi (Petrushevska, 79) Mustafa (Mileska, 86), Andonova, Markovska (Dervishi, 45), Maksuti; Rochi
Subs not used: Boseska, Lekovska, Paneska, Dimonska, Chubrinovska, Choneva, Petrovska, Kolevska
Yellow cards: Maksuti
Referee: Maria Dolores Martínez Madrona (Spain)
As it happened
England's instant impact
— Lionesses (@Lionesses) September 17, 2021
FULL TIME: England 8-0 North Macedonia
The the flurry of goals towards the end of the match added some gloss to a dominant performance by the hosts. They should have been more ruthless and scored at least 10...BUT the Sarina Wiegman era is off to a winning start.
GOOOOOAAAALLL!! England 8-0 North Macedonia
Beth Mead deserves a goal and gets one thanks to a great goal, cutting inside on to her right foot and unleashing from just inside the box.
GOOOOOAAAALLL!! England 7-0 North Macedonia
Mead crosses for Beth England and she makes no mistake, heading home from yards.
88 mins: England 6-0 North Macedonia
Toone, who's had a fine, creative match, plays in Parris but her, stabbed shot is saved by the ever-busy Rechi.
87 mins: England 6-0 North Macedonia
Mead sends in the zillionth decent cross into the area - this time it's Gill Scott who cannot capitalise as she heads over from 10 yards.
85 mins: England 6-0 North Macedonia
A fine double save from Rechi the second of which was a Peter Schmeichel-like save from a full-blooded volley by Beth England.
83 mins: England 6-0 North Macedonia
Parris dinks a delightful ball to the back post from the right and England cannot turn it into the net - to be fair, however, it was good defending from her North Macedonia opponent.
The crowd number is...
GOOOOOAAAALLL!! England 6-0 North Macedonia
The goals are coming for the hosts now. It's the second own goal of the night as Kolarovska puts the ball into her own net while trying to intercept a cross from Mead.
GOOOOOAAAALLL!! England 5-0 North Macedonia
Beth England heads home from two yards after Scott's shot-cum-cross is palmed into her path by Rechi.
77 mins: England 4-0 North Macedonia
Daly from the right sets up Toone at the back post and once again Rechi stops the ball from hitting the back of the net.
76 mins: England 4-0 North Macedonia
A fine double save from Rechi prevents it being five at St Mary's.
73 mins: England 4-0 North Macedonia
Mead lays it off for Scott and she shoots from 10 yards and watches her shot go just. That was nearly the perfect impact sub, but England should have had a hat full tonight. They've lack cutting edge at the business end of the pitch.
70 mins: England 4-0 North Macedonia
There won't be an Ellen White hat-trick as the striker comes off along with Stanway. The pair make way for England and Scott.
From Tom Garry at St Mary's
The England fans' band have now started up a rendition of 'Sweet Caroline' and the crowd have responded, partying like it's July 2021. You sense everyone here is thoroughly enjoying this one-sided affair.
GOOOOAAAALLL!! England 4-0 North Macedonia
White gets her second and the hosts' fourth as she makes no mistake from the spot placing the ball into the right corner of the net.
64 mins: England 3-0 North Macedonia
PENALTY FOR ENGLAND...
Williamson gets into the box on the left and is brought down by Zivikj (the scorer of the own goal...). The replay suggests it might have been outside the area...
62 mins: England 3-0 North Macedonia
A double change from Wiegman...
Parris and Wubben-Moy for Bright and Hemp
62 mins: England 3-0 North Macedonia
White heads over from a another good cross from the left, this time by Stokes.
Here's Ellen White's goal from the first half
— Lionesses (@Lionesses) September 17, 2021
61 mins: England 3-0 North Macedonia
Hemp sends a lovely curling ball in, this time from the right, and White just cannot get enough of a connection on the ball to send it into the back of the net.
59 mins: England 3-0 North Macedonia
Stanway takes a touch and shots low from the edge of the box forcing Rechi into a good save with her feet.
56 mins: England 3-0 North Macedonia
More patient passing from the hosts, but again they are lacking cutting edge in the final third. The game is going a bit flat at the moment...
54 mins: England 3-0 North Macedonia
Toone plays a fine throughball for Hemp who snatches at the chance and Rechi makes an easy save.
53 mins: England 3-0 North Macedonia
From the set piece England go short and work an opportunity for a chipped cross which wins the hosts another corner.
52 mins: England 3-0 North Macedonia
England are being patient, not forcing the attack but it's still 3-0. Hemp wins a corner on the left.
48 mins: England 3-0 North Macedonia
England look sharper and more clinical with their passing so far this half...
Greenwood and a dog from 25 yards that curls just wide.
47 mins: England 3-0 North Macedonia
Daly puts in a great cross on the right to the back post - Hemp is on the end of it and her header (which was goal bound) is deflected for a corner. From the set piece the hosts win another corner, from that the North Macedonians can breath a sigh of relief as the ball ends up in the welcoming arms of Rechi in between the posts.
45 mins: England 3-0 North Macedonia
The second half is under way - how many can England add over the next 45 minutes?
From Tom Garry at St Mary's
All of the England subs are giving every single member of the starting XI a fist pump or equivalent, as they walk off for the half-time break. That feels like a deliberate team act, in the new era under Sarina Wiegman.
In the stands, the home fans have certainly been entertained. The only thing is, it should probably be 6-0, rather than just 3-0. England were camped in the North Macedonian's half and I can only recall the visitors firing at goal twice, both times from range.
HALF TIME: England 3-0 North Macedonia
White has a great chance to make it four after fine work from Mead, but the sharpshooter hits is over the bar from 10 yards.
Well, it's safe to say that was the hosts' half. They've had a lot of the ball and, if truth be told, should be more than three goals to the good.
GOOOOOAAAALLLL!!! England 3-0 North Macedonia
It's an own goal.
England go short from a corner on the left - when Greenwood's ball gets to the back post Zivikj can do nothing more that guide the ball agonisingly over her own line...
GOOOOOAAAALLL!! England 2-0 North Macedonia
White (who else?) slots home form 12 yards with a first-time finish with her left boot after some slack defence from the visitors.
40 mins: England 1-0 North Macedonia
Another dangerous cross doesn't result in an effort on goal. The hosts need to be more ruthless in the final third.
37 mins: England 1-0 North Macedonia
Another ball from Hemp on the left forces the visiting keeper, Rechi, come out and make a brave stop with White lurking dangerously.
36 mins: England 1-0 North Macedonia
Hemp against gets the ball on the left, she turned her defender before getting a cross in. Again she's unable to pick out a team-mate.
Toone, meanwhile, comes back onto the pitch.
32 mins: England 1-0 North Macedonia
Toone strikes from outside the box and it is again well blocked. She falls awkwardly and looks in pain. She's seen to by the medical bods and after a bit of a break the Man Utd player hobbles off the pitch. It looks like the hurt her knee...no immediate change so for now, at least, England are down a player.
— Lionesses (@Lionesses) September 17, 2021
29 mins: England 1-0 North Macedonia
Mead has a dig from outside the box and it goes just wide - was worth a go.
28 mins: England 1-0 North Macedonia
Toone is taken out 25 yards out and England win a free kick. Can they make it two from this set piece?
No, is the answer as Mead lays it off to Bright whose shot is well blocked by the on-rushing North Macedonia defence.
25 mins: England 1-0 North Macedonia
The hosts are pressing forward but cannot find the vital killer pass in the final third at the moment.
22 mins: England 1-0 North Macedonia
Bit of a lull in the game - as in no England attempt on target for a few minutes.
North Macedonia have a free kick in the opposition half that ends with Maksuti having a shot from jsut outside the box, it goes high and wide.
19 mins: England 1-0 North Macedonia
It's all England (as expected). They're dominated possession and it's a case of how many they score tonight. Stanway gets in another crosses - it sat up nicely but she should have possibly squared it instead.
From Tom Garry at St Mary's
This ground might only be a third full, but these excited supporters created a huge noise when that opening goal went in, with all the flags waving. St Mary's is one of the chosen venues for next summer's Euros, including an England group game, so this lively atmosphere is very encouraging for organisers ahead of that tournament.
16 mins: England 1-0 North Macedonia
It should be 2-0 (should probably be 4-0 to be honest) Stanway dances into the box and her shot goes just wide.
15 mins: England 1-0 North Macedonia
Another great delivery from Daly on the right finds Hemp at the back post. It's a great chance but her header goes wide - the hosts are missing a few early chances here...
GOOOOOAAAALLLL!!! England 1-0 North Macedonia
Leah Williamson plays a delightful first-time throughball in the centre circle for Toone who latches on the the ball and calmly slots home from outside the box. It's a good goal but the keeper should have done better.
That's the first goal of the Wiegman reign and it's come after just 12 minutes.
9 mins: England 0-0 North Macedonia
What. A . Chance.
The ball is played into the box and the Man Utd player Toone is unmarked on the penalty spot BUT her header goes well wide with the goals at her mercy. That should have been 1-0 to the hosts.
8 mins: England 0-0 North Macedonia
Andonova is North Macedonia's playmaker and one who makes them tick. She plays in a great throughaball for Ronchi, but the England backline held their line and the forward is offside.
The ball then goes straight up the other end of the pitch and White gets in a shot that goes just over.
7 mins: England 0-0 North Macedonia
Hemp is heavily involved - she's got acres of space on the left and the ball to her is on every time. This time her cross nearly goes in at the back post.
6 mins: England 0-0 North Macedonia
Hemp puts in a teasing ball into the box that North Macedonia goalkeeper Rechi deals well with after an initial fumble.
The North Macedonia Yeovil Town fan club is at St Mary's...
— Tom Garry (@TomJGarry) September 17, 2021
3 mins: England 0-0 North Macedonia
The North Macedonians have done OK since that very early chance. They draw a foul in their own half - not great shakes but they will need to do that a lot this match, one in which they'll be mostly under the cosh for...
From Tom Garry
The players are wearing black armbands tonight in memory of Rachel Daly’s father, Martyn Daly, who was a massive supporter of the Lionesses and sadly died at the weekend. Meanwhile, everyone takes a knee at kick-off, which is warmly applauded by the fans.
1 min: England 0-0 North Macedonia
Early chance for England - bright from the start the ball is worked to the right and the ball in the box is headed goalward by Hemp. It goes for a corner and from the setpiece the visitors can clear their lines.
The national anthems have been sung
And the referee has blown for the start of the match...
The teams are out on the pitch
And a new era for England is about to get under way. The new reign will undoubtedly start with a win, but by how many?
Captain Leah Williamson speaks...
On the new coach...
"She’s been so successful with the Dutch team so we’re all ears. Training has gone up a notch which we needed."
On having a crowd back for the first time in two years...
"It will be great to have everyone back - its will be a good day, I can feel it."
The two teams in black and white
ENGLAND XI TO FACE NORTH MACEDONIA: Earps, Daly, Bright, Greenwood, Stokes, Stanway, Williamson, Toone, Mead, White, Hemp, Subs: Charles, MacIver, Zelem, Wubben-Moy, Parris, Staniforth, England, Scott, Telford, Salmon, Carter
NORTH MACEDONIA XI TO FACE ENGLAND: Rechi, Polozhani, Kolarovska, Nikolovska, Zivikj, Saliihi, Mustafa, Andonova, Markovska, Maksuti, Rochi, Subs: Boseska, Mileska, Lekovska, Dervishi, Paneska, Dimoska, Chubrinovska, Petrushevska, Choneva, Petrovska, Kolevska, Jankovska
More from Tom Garry...
This will be a very proud night for Portfield's Primary School in Newport Pagnell, just outside of Milton Keynes, where Leah Williamson was a star pupil. She captains her country for the first time tonight, in the absence of injured skipper Steph Houghton (ankle).
More from Sarina Wiegman...
On Steph Houghton’s injury…
“We don’t know how serious it is yet. Hope she’ll be back soon.”
On Leah Williamson being captain for the first time…
“On the pitch she’s really calm and good at getting the team together. She’s a good team player.”
On North Macedonia’s strength…
“Probably their defence - we need to pay a very good possession game, need to be composed on the ball.”
The new coach speaks...
'The development from a couple of years ago until now is really good.' 🗣@katieshanahan3 spoke to @Lionesses boss Sarina Wiegman about the current standard of the women's game ⚽️
See the full interview tomorrow evening on @ITV4 📺 pic.twitter.com/juBgLjSSZY
— ITV Football (@itvfootball) September 16, 2021
Leading by example
Info on North Macedonia
This from our very own Tom Garry...
North Macedonia are ranked 131st in the world, so don't expect much opposition from them tonight. England could hardly have had a more straightforward task, to start their qualifying campaign.
The visitors lost 11-0 to France last year, so expect plenty of goals.
We're expecting around 10,000 fans here this evening to witness it.
Wiegman names her first England XI
Kirby does indeed miss out as feared.
— Lionesses (@Lionesses) September 17, 2021
Fran Kirby an injury doubt
England could be without Fran Kirby when they make their bow under Sarina Wiegman against North Macedonia on Friday.
The new Lionesses boss said on Thursday that Kirby was to be assessed ahead of the contest at Southampton's St Mary's Stadium.
Speaking at her pre-match press conference, Wiegman said when asked about the Chelsea playmaker: "Today she will start up training a little more and after this training session we'll decide what we do.
"She hasn't had much training load this week, so we are not going to take any risk. She just needed some managing of load and we didn't want to take any risk to push that."
Wiegman said that otherwise, everyone in her squad was fit, and that the team she selects on Friday will be "very strong I think."
After the North Macedonia game - a first match for England Women in front of fans since 2019 - the second part of what is a World Cup qualifying double-header sees them play Luxembourg away next Tuesday.
While England are eighth in the world rankings, North Macedonia and Luxembourg lie 131st and 122nd respectively.
Wiegman said of the two games: "First of all the priority is to win, and we want to have good wins, to score a lot of goals, conceding none. Tomorrow night we want to show how good we can play and make the crowd proud of us."
The 51-year-old Dutchwoman has taken charge after four-and-a-half years as Holland boss, which included winning Euro 2017 on home soil and finishing as runners-up at the 2019 World Cup in France.
Asked what she had seen from her new team so far in training, she said: "I've seen many things. First of all an enormous, great work ethic.
"I'm very excited I can work with the team, but they work so hard, sometimes we have to ask just to slow down a little bit.
"Very much quality. We had some principles we brought in, and they are just going for it and they really want to do very well. I (have) really enjoyed, and hopefully we can show that on the pitch tomorrow."
Wiegman has come in ahead of England hosting the Euros next summer, and she added: "What I know is we have a very good team, that the players are very willing to become better, to work together, very eager to learn.
"The ingredients are here to perform really well. The competition will be so strong, so I don't know where we will be next year. But I know now that the start is really good, I'm really enjoying it and these are the ingredients to continue and to become better."
Wiegman is the permanent successor to Phil Neville after he stepped down in January to take charge of Major League Soccer outfit Inter Miami.
The Lionesses were subsequently managed on an interim basis by Hege Riise, who oversaw a friendly victory over Northern Ireland and defeats to France and Canada before being in charge for Great Britain's Tokyo Olympics campaign that ended in the quarter-finals.
England have won only four of their last 14 games, losing nine, stretching back to their 2019 World Cup semi-final defeat to the United States.
Steph Houghton, England's captain since 2014 who is set to continue to wear the armband for at least the two upcoming fixtures, said: "I think for us this is kind of like starting afresh, I think it's a clean slate for everybody.
"Of course results after the World Cup weren't up to our standard and what was expected of an England team, and there were some performances that were below par. But for me and for the rest of the players it's all about just trying to go out there and show everybody what a good team we are, because we have some exceptional players."