Rachel Daly seizes World Cup chance as Lionesses survive a scare to beat Italy

 (The FA via Getty Images)
(The FA via Getty Images)

England should retain the Arnold Clark Cup from here.

The Lionesses solidified top spot with a 2-1 win over Italy in Coventry.

As manager Sarina Wiegman rang the changes, starts were given to young fringe players hoping to earn themselves a seat on the plane for this summer’s World Cup.

Jess Park, Katie Robinson and Maya Le Tissier all started and England’s first of two moments of real quality came from 20-year-old Robinson.

The Brighton forward crossed from the right, with Rachel Daly poised to head home on 33 minutes.

It was a goal which raised Wiegman from her chair and upped the volume around the Coventry Building Society Arena, which was a near-full house.

A Mexican wave had started only moments before, and Daly quelled the impatience with a smart nodded finish.

Italy levelled after the break with a controversial goal in which the ball appeared to have gone out for a goal-kick before Sofia Cantore’s header appeared not to have even crossed the line. So in two ways, they were fortunate to be level.

But England showed the sort of resolve that has become typical of them, Daly netting her second header of the game.

For the most part, it was the Lionesses who were comfortably in control of proceedings in the first half.

Daly twice tested goalkeeper Laura Giuliani as England stated their intent early on, but Daly came back a third time and beat the goalkeeper with a neat header from Robinson’s superb cross.

The Lionesses only had Daly’s goal to take into the break in terms of a lead, but they had the flow of the match well under control.

Jordan Nobbs and Katie Zelem were brought on for the second half, offering both crucial minutes as they seek to secure themselves a place in the World Cup squad.

Nobbs left Arsenal for Aston Villa last month in the hunt for an England return. Here, she was immediately into the fray, denied well by a magnificent Giuliani save from close range and then again from further out.

England looked to be nearing a second goal. Then in a freak moment, Italy were level.

Barbara Bonansea crossed when the ball looked to have crept out for a goal-kick. Substitute Sofia Cantore headed the ball through Roebuck’s arms and possibly over the line, but possibly not.

It certainly didn’t look to have crossed the goal-line before captain-on-the-afternoon Alex Greenwood cleared it. The assistant referee didn’t flag for either the goal-kick nor a goal, but referee Ivana Pojkovska felt the ball had been kept in and then the goal scored.

Italy were level in a moment of total confusion that would have surely been cleared up had VAR been operating.

Daly remained England’s focal-point centre-forward and from substitute Lauren James’s cross - like Robinson’s, from the right - Daly rose highest again, steering a wonderful header down and into the ground and in.

England face Belgium on Wednesday in Bristol where they will likely lift this trophy for a second year running.

The Lionesses showed they have reserve when suffering set-backs, dealing with the madness of Italy’s equaliser to regain the lead at the other end just nine minutes later.

That will have pleased Wiegman and England, but the circumstances in which Italy denied Roebuck her clean-sheet certainly won’t have pleased them.

Perhaps England got away with one. Or perhaps the referee did.