England ‘won’t sit on pink cloud’ after orange walk against Netherlands

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Sarina Wiegman’s England will spend the majority of next month’s Euro 2022 based at the Lensbury, a luxury resort hotel in south-west London where the Dutch suite is the finest room type on offer. It sounds thoroughly appropriate accommodation for Wiegman, a native of The Hague who, having led the Netherlands to Euro 2017 glory, is now making a very decent job of dressing the Lionesses for success.

On Friday, her team even wore a Dutch-style orange kit as, having weathered a sometimes less than convincing first half littered with cheap concessions of possession, they ultimately thrashed Mark Parsons’s Oranje class of 2022, running out 5-1 winners in a friendly at Elland Road.

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Wiegman’s England record reads: played 13, won 11, drawn two, 80 goals scored, three conceded. Not that she is the type to get carried away. “We’re not going to sit on a pink cloud [the Dutch term for cloud nine],” she said afterwards. “We’re going to stay grounded. There are many favourites for the tournament and we’re just one. We’re in a good place but there are a couple of things we need to improve.”

Beth Mead, a second-half substitute and scorer of two goals, impressed along with the excellent Lauren Hemp, Fran Kirby, Rachel Daly, Keira Walsh, Ella Toone and Alessia Russo. Home truths were told at half-time, though.

“We were told it wasn’t good enough,” Mead said. “We were panicking and doing things out of character. Sarina told us to trust in our ability and we did that in the second half.”

Wiegman’s substitutions, perhaps most notably the introductions of Toone and Russo, altered the complexion of a match in which Lieke Martens headed the Netherlands into an early lead, Lucy Bronze scored a fluke equaliser and the visitors missed a penalty before a newly high-pressing England took charge. With Hemp, the scorer of a sumptuous volley, the brightest star in the home firmament, it turned into such a forensic dissection of Dutch weakness that, at the final whistle, they looked tortured.

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Their English manager – Parsons is a former Chelsea women reserve coach who more recently managed Portland Thorns in the US – was swift to accept the blame. Significantly, he shouldered full responsibility for leaving a number of quickly tiring players on the pitch in a final 30 minutes when the Lionesses revelled in ripping them to shreds.

Parsons, though, emphasised that England had been the first team limbering up for the 6 July kick-off to enter a pre-tournament camp and that the Netherlands began their own countdown two weeks later. Friday was his team’s first friendly and their record goalscorer, Vivianne Miedema, began on the bench due to lack of match-fitness.

Eyebrows were certainly raised in WSL circles when England started full-time training for Euro 2022 on 30 May and there are legitimate questions about potential burnout and peaking too soon. Lucy Bronze said: “We played really well but we saw the Netherlands are behind us in their preparations.”

Having defeated Belgium 3-0 at Molineux last week, the Lionesses travel to Switzerland for another friendly on Thursday, when Wiegman hopes her own record-scorer, Ellen White, sidelined by Covid, will return. For all England’s strength and depth, and intense competition for places, they are light on ruthless strikers and Chelsea’s Beth England failed her audition to challenge White’s status as an automatic starter.

Parsons seemed hard-pushed to detect many further weaknesses. “I made it easy for them by not tightening things up but England are very, very good,” he said. “Opponents watching the last 30 minutes will be very worried. They’re a great team with a top, top coach.”