Well this second match for England’s Lionesses couldn’t really have been more different from the first against Brazil, indeed the only real similarity being that they once again took away all three points. The result sees them qualify from their group with a 100% record so far, but they will hope to put the memory of this game largely behind them and try and recreate the form of their first match as they progress through the knockout rounds.
From the off, Nigeria came at England, and to be honest, the girls in white always looked a yard or so off the pace. Whether it was the heat or just a touch of fatigue from Thursday’s game, England looked a little lethargic and Nigeria really should have taken advantage, with chance after chance coming their way, but due to some wasteful finishing and some great goalkeeping by Lauren Davey in the England goal, the scoreline remained goalless.
Where against Brazil it was England’s assured touch and evident comfort in possession that allowed them to develop careful, and stylish, passing moves, they simply could not seem to pick a pass to feet today and were constantly giving possession away far too cheaply, and therefore bringing pressure back on themselves again and again.
How we reached half time with the scoreline still at 0-0 I will never know, and Nigeria will surely regret that they didn’t press home their blatant superiority, though credit to the England defenders; Bronze, Jacobs, Chadwick and Bonner put in heroic challenge after heroic challenge and between them kept Nigeria out, but they looked dead on their feet come the half time whistle.
Luckily for England, Nigeria’s threat was somewhat diminished in the second half. Desire Oparanozie, who had been the Nigerians main threat in the first half, seemed to tire and in general, they couldn’t recreate the sharp passing and physical presence that had so troubled England through the first period. Davey was forced to make some sharp saves again though early in the second period, but soon the Nigerian threat began to die out altogether, and while England too were struggling to put together any attacks of merit, the game was threatening to fizzle out.
However, England finally began to stamp some authority on the game with about twenty minutes to go, with Danielle Carter and Jessica Holbrook switching positions to good effect, Carter using her strength to good effect to win the ball in midfield and Holbrook providing more of a target and physical presence to get on the end of England’s lofted balls forward. With some fresh legs brought on, Rachel Daly and Rachel Pitman introduced for tiring England’s players, the Lionesses really started to look a threat.
And when the deadlock was finally broken in the 79th minute, it was done in some style, as a long throw was clipped inside to the edge of the box, where Holbrook used her strength to see off the challenge from the Nigerian defender, and turned to strike a thumping volley low towards the bottom corner, where the ball bounced over the plainly frustrated Nigerian keeper, who had had very little else to do, since tipping Rebecca Jane’s distance effort onto the bar in the first half.
England had the lead, and Nigeria couldn’t really seem to do anything about it as the match drew to a close, it seemed that they had spent all their efforts earlier in the game but had garnered no reward for them ultimately. In the end the scoreline was perhaps a little harsh on the Africans, with the shot count of 20-2 in Nigeria’s favour and the corner count similarly unbalanced (Nigeria hit double figures, England didn’t even have one) serving as an indication of how dominant they had been for a large portion of the game.
But while they will be disappointed not to have played better and dispatched Nigeria more comfortably, England must be pleased with the resilience they showed, and indeed it is the sign of a good side when you can hold out and snatch an unlikely three points even when you don’t play to your best. Coach Lois Fiddler will be proud of her young charges, and they now have a pressure-free game against Korea before they have to worry about the knockout stages. They’ve shown in the two games that they lack neither skill nor character though, and so if they can keep the hard work going, they have every chance of going all the way in this World Cup.