Kerr and Grant strike as Australia end sloppy England’s long unbeaten run | Friendlies

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Kerr and Grant strike as Australia end sloppy England’s long unbeaten run | Friendlies


  • Friendly international: England 0-2 Australia
  • Mistake from Leah Williamson set up Kerr’s first goal

The spectre of defeat loomed over England as each game extended their impressive unbeaten run under Sarina Wiegman.

That the 30-game run came to an end with a limp and frustrating performance in a defeat by the World Cup co-hosts Australia in the team’s final match before the manager names her squad is far from ideal.

Yes, it has punctured an air of almost invincibility but perhaps it is not the worst thing to get a loss out of the way before the tournament begins in July. It was Sam Kerr that delivered the first blow, and then was on hand to provide the assist for the second, Charlotte Grant’s header from her cross taking a wicked deflection off England captain Leah Williamson to send goalkeeper Mary Earps the wrong way.

“It doesn’t feel great,” said Wiegman, on the end of the unbeaten run. “It’s a big learning game against a very physical, well-organised, good defending Australia.

“I’m not worried. I don’t worry very easily. We know we have to be at our top level. Every game we’ve had some warnings. Against Brazil we had some warnings, against the Czech Republic we needed to create a little more, that was a warning. I don’t think that we’re losing momentum, it’s building, it’s 100 days to go and everyone is really excited to go to Australia. It’s just a really big learning moment for us.”

As promised, there was little change to the starting XI that faced Brazil in the Final last Thursday. Wiegman chose to go with a lineup as close to the one we will likely see at the World Cup, injuries considered, with just two changes, Chloe Kelly starting in place of Lauren James and Esme Morgan coming in for the injured Alex Greenwood.

Australia welcomed the return of Chelsea forward Kerr, favoured over Cortnee Vine after being rested in their 1-0 defeat by Scotland last week.

It took four minutes for the hosts to threaten, with Alessia Russo’s outstretched foot grazing the ball into the path of goalkeeper Mackenzie Arnold.

Charlotte Grant’s shot takes a deflection off Leah Williamson to double Australia’s advantage. Photograph: Glyn Kirk/AFP/Getty Images

Despite the positive early signs and a majority of the possession in the first half, the Lionesses’ struggled to find space in between the tight lines of Australia’s 4-4-2. Loose balls were the order of the day as the wet turf played havoc, passes under-hit and over-hit all over.

Lauren Hemp, who began the game with a Zorro-style mask to protect the nose that poured blood after a hefty challenge in the Brazil game, would be the next to take advantage of a stray ball, skating into the box from the right before pulling back for Russo but a defender got there ahead of her.

Chance after chance fell to Manchester United forward Russo, but she struggled to find space and impose herself.

The opener came from a familiar source to followers of the WSL, and it was decidedly against the run of play. A long ball over the top towards Kerr saw her racing with Williamson to connect. It was the England captain that made contact first, she nodded the ball towards Earps but there wasn’t enough power behind it and Kerr beat the goalkeeper to the ball before lifting over her and in.

Replays showed that Kerr had looked offside as the ball was played from deep, exposing the decision to not take advantage of VAR or goal-line technology in a Premier League ground.

At the break England were still behind, for the first time in Wiegman’s tenure they had reached half-time with the score against them. If they had wanted to add another test, following a first penalty shootout win since 2011, then attempting to come from behind against another top-10 nation was it.

However, the story was similar in the second half. Wiegman’s charges probed but the Australian’s seemed happy to weather the storm, literally and metaphorically. Their chances would come on the break and, in the 67th minute Kerr swung the ball in from the right towards Grant, whose diving header took a deflection on its way past Earps.

“It’s obviously a really big performance for us, we’ve got a lot of players out but unfortunately beating England tonight doesn’t win us anything,” said Kerr. “I wouldn’t be here if it did, I’d be out celebrating.”

England pushed to reduce the deficit but remained frustrated. This is perhaps the test England wanted most and wanted least, how they recover from defeat will be a test of character and a test of the tacticians in and around the team.

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