England extended their unbeaten run to 25 games under Sarina Wiegman with an emphatic defeat of the 2011 World Cup winners Japan in Murcia.
If there was any fear that the momentum of Wiegman’s side was slowing after a 0-0 draw with the Czech Republic last month followed the 2-1 defeat of USA at Wembley, then that was put to bed comfortably against a historically tricky team as they continue to march towards the World Cup with expectations rising with each game.
The Lionesses have now scored 123 goals and conceded just six times since Wiegman took charge in September 2021 and have won all seven games played outside of the UK, scoring 44 and conceding none.
“We played a very good game,” said Wiegman. “It was a very attractive game with lots of football. They played in a shape we haven’t had a lot against us so that was good to practice that, they changed a bit in the second half then they changed back so we had to adapt all the time. It’s really good to see the players do so well and to see different players and to see substitutes come on and do a good job.”
There were several changes to the team that took to the field for the draw with the Czech Republic last month that ended a run of 15 wins. However, many were enforced changes rather than being of the manager’s choosing. Only Millie Bright, who was handed the armband with Leah Williamson out injured, remained in the back line, with Esme Morgan making her senior debut alongside the Chelsea centre-back and Niamh Charles and Rachel Daly at full-back.
Beth Mead, making her 50th England appearance, two days after being named BBC Women’s Footballer of the Year, and the Manchester United forward Alessia Russo returned up front and Georgia Stanway was on in place of Fran Kirby.
Also ruled out of this camp was Lauren Hemp and Jordan Nobbs, while a minor injury to the included Alex Greenwood and positive Covid tests from Lucy Bronze alongside a minor injury, saw them omitted from the matchday squad (albeit with Bronze having returned a negative test prior to kick-off) with Wiegman saying that “now isn’t the time to take risks”.
Wiegman had praised the challenge that would be posed by a technical Japan side but said she hoped England could dominate.
The Japanese were unbeaten in 13 games in all competitions prior to the trip to Spain – nine wins and four draws – with the team’s last defeat coming to Iceland a year ago.
As the wind whipped almost violently through the Pinatar Arena, England did just that despite the potential disruption of numerous changes.
It took the Manchester United duo Russo and Ella Toone two minutes to combine and for the latter to force a save from Ayaka Yamashita. Toone, who has signed a new contract with United, would go close again, but she scuffed her shot as she swung at Chloe Kelly’s cross.
There was danger minutes later as Jun Endo floated the ball towards Arsenal’s Mana Iwabuchi but those moments from Japan were fleeting. Far less fleeting were the pinpoint crosses flying in from Kelly on the left as England sought the opener.
The hero of the final of the Euros, just four months ago, was rampant and could perhaps feel frustrated at the profligacy of her teammates. In quick succession she twice delivered for Russo but the first was just ahead of the forward and the second was headed on to the post from six yards out. Russo could be forgiven, given that the forward has only recently returned from injury.
In the 38th minute the story was the same, with Kelly’s cross missed by Russo but this time Daly arrived to power in at the far post.
The full-back, who plays up front at club level, is constantly being considered for a role further forward said Wiegman. “She’s so versatile, she played a really good game from full-back too and she scored from that position,” she said. “She’s an option to try out up front too but we also have to look at which players we have available and what’s best for the team.”
In the second half the Lionesses doubled their lead in style, Mead, released on the right, sent a cross in from the right, Russo could not reach it but Kelly was on hand to fire past Yamashita.
The introduction of Ebony Salmon and Lauren James in the 64th minute for Russo and Kelly upped the ante and 12 minutes later they were both involved as Toone collected Salmon’s reverse pass and sent in England’s third with her left foot.
The fourth spoke to the depth and potency of the European champions’ squad, with Salmon, delivering from the right and the substitute Jess Park firing in from close range shortly after coming off the bench to make her debut.
The Lionesses play Norway on Tuesday in their final game of 2022.