Toone downs Dutch in epic England win to keep Team GB’s Olympics dream alive

<span>Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian</span>
Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

Down and not out, just. England’s stunning second-half fightback from a two-goal deficit against the Netherlands to win ensured they have a chance of progressing from their Nations League group and earning a place for Team GB at the Olympics.

Ella Toone was the hero, returned to the super-sub role she occupied during the Euros, firing in from a tight angle in added time to secure the victory and maintain the Lionesses’s unbeaten run at Wembley.

There are several small positives to the England contingent possibly avoiding Great Britain duty at Paris 2024 and having a summer off after back-to-back tournaments three years in a row, but they are the smallest of silver linings on the darkest of clouds and not ones Sarina Wiegman’s players want to contemplate.

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England not progressing to the latter stage of the Nations League and securing the entry of Team GB at the Olympics, which would only be achieved by finishing as one of the top two teams, would be a disaster for a side with the ambition they have and the expectation on them.

As it stands, with Scotland holding Belgium to a 1-1 draw last night, a win against Scotland on Tuesday combined with the Netherlands failing to beat Belgium at home will be enough. Should both the Dutch and England win, then Wiegman’s team would need to overhaul the Netherlands’ superior goal difference.

There were two changes to the England team that lost 3-2 to Belgium in October, with Jess Carter replacing the injured captain from the World Cup, Millie Bright, and Lauren James included in place of Alessia Russo. With Arsenal forward Russo on the bench, Lauren Hemp led the line for England, making her 50th appearance, flanked by James and her Manchester City teammate Chloe Kelly.

It was a very different starting XI to the side that lost 2-1 to the Netherlands in September, Renate Jansen giving the home team the win in the 90th minute. Five players that started that game – Russo, Bright, Rachel Daly, Katie Zelem and Ella Toone – missed out this time.

Andries Jonker’s side was unchanged from their 1-0 defeat of Scotland in their preceding Nations League fixture, the same starting lineup that also secured the late win against England.

England dominated the opening 10 minutes, pinning the Dutch into their own half, pressing high and harrying the visitors at every opportunity. It was a shock when Lineth Beerensteyn gave the Netherlands the lead from their first ball in behind the England defence, and the goal deflated a previously buoyant Wembley crowd.

The breakthrough came at the end of a slick move. Arsenal forward Victoria Pelova beating Alex Greenwood before sending the ball into the run of Beerensteyn. Lucy Bronze and Carter should have dealt with the danger but ran into each other, allowing the forward to peel away and send the ball through the legs of Mary Earps.

Wiegman had said England knew what they had to do against the Dutch following their defeat by Belgium, where they had similarly dominated, highlighting a need to improve defensively against counterattacks. “It was just the final touch, the final moments to score goals, that we didn’t do well enough. We [also] gave away some counterattacks and we want to defend that,” she had said.

The story here was almost identical. England laboured and Jonker’s defensive trio of Caitlin Dijkstra, Dominique Janssen and Esmee Brugts looked calm and collected. Without the focal point of Russo, England’s attack seemed even more blunt than it has in recent matches. Hemp struggled to assert herself in the middle against the tall centre-backs and a lack of rotation between the front three meant the box was woefully short of teammates when she drifted wide or deep to collect.

Lauren Hemp equalises for England against the Netherlands
Lauren Hemp equalises for England against the Netherlands. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

Despite England edging possession, the Dutch continued to look more potent, Jill Roord rattling a ball off the frame of the goal after Bronze’s header away from a corner fell to her.

The Netherlands doubled their lead in the 35th minute courtesy of another comedy of errors from England, Beerensteyn latching on to the loose ball after the home team had failed to clear before beating Greenwood and sending a tame shot towards Earps, who fumbled the ball into her own net.

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Wiegman rung the changes at the break, Beth Mead making her long-awaited return in an England shirt after more than a year out with an ACL injury. The Lionesses probed, searching for a way past a resolute Dutch defence and their efforts were rewarded just before the hour mark, Georgia Stanway springing the offside trap to steer James’s ball over the top past Daphne van Domselaar.

Two minutes later they were level, Stanway teeing up Hemp who swept home a low shot. The crowd roared but the players refused to celebrate, collecting the ball and delivering it back to the centre circle with the focus of a team that knew there was still work to be done.

In the 67th minute the duo that proved so effective off the bench during England’s run to a first European title in 2022, Russo and Toone, entered the fray.

England were on top again, Keira Walsh sending an effort straight at Van Domselaar, Mead steering a header wide and Toone having a shot deflected for a corner.

It was looking like it would be too little too late, then up popped Toone, sidefooting James’s superb cross through the legs of Van Domselaar to breathe fresh life into Team GB’s Olympic dreams.