England suffered a setback in their World Cup preparation as they were dealt a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Canada. Christine Sinclair scored the winner to move within four goals of the all time international goal scoring record.
The two sides faced each other for the first time since the 2015 World Cup quarter finals in Canada. England royally stole the host’s thunder that day, recording a famous 2-1 victory in front of a partisan crowd.
England went into the game with confidence high after lifting the SheBelieves Cup last month. Impressive though it was, expectations should still be kept in check. The Lionesses made difficult work of an ageing Brazil team and drew with a USA side that are undoubtedly world class, but the majority of the squad were not match sharp as their domestic season had not kicked off. England were superb in their final game, although this was against a below strength Japan eleven. Today’s game against Canada, a side ranked 5th in the world, just two places below England, is perhaps a truer test of their credentials.
Starting 11 question marks
England’s team selection sparked debate, with Lucy Bronze started as part of a midfield three. It’s not the first time Phil Neville has experimented with Bronze, widely regarded as the greatest right back in world football, in an unfamiliar midfield role. Her pace, power and athleticism make her a real asset going forward from fullback, so the thinking behind Neville’s selection is understandable. However, with Bronze so effective at bombing down the flanks, moving her more centrally was perhaps questionable.
The first half was a 45 minutes of few chances. Just before the half hour mark, a poor England clearance fell to Jessie Fleming, but the ball was blazed wide.
As the half drew to a close, England began to cause Canada some problems. Neat build up play saw Jodie Taylor roll her defender before finding Bronze. Her first time through ball was slightly overhit for Toni Duggan, Stephanie Labe in the Canada goal remained untroubled.
But moments later, Labe sprung into action. Taylor was again involved, as Nikita Parris found space just outside the box. Her well struck shot forced the Canada stopper into a smart save.
All square at the break
The half finished goalless. The visitors had been marginally the better side, without creating a clear cut opportunity. England had struggled to really get hold of the ball and were scrappy in possession. Nikita Parris had been a thorn in Canada’s side down the right hand side. The Manchester City striker has been in red hot form domestically this season and looked England’s most dangerous player.
The game opened up in the opening exchanges of the second half. Unconvincing defending from England saw the ball fall to Janine Beckie, who struck an instinctive shot from the edge of the area. Karen Bardsley showed lightening reflexes to turn the ball behind.
On 52, Duggan set up Karen Carney, whose intelligent shot dipped, but not quite enough, just over. The Lionesses continued to press for the opening goal. Just before the hour mark, Parris’s low cross fell to Taylor who teed up Duggan. The Barcelona striker did well to find space to get her shot away, but it was sent just wide.
Beth Meade replaced Carney on 62 minutes. Ten minutes later, Ellen White and Jill Scott also entered the fray. Rachel Daly and Jodie Taylor departed, with Bronze slotting back into a more familiar right back role.
On 77, Canada got in behind the England back line. Jayde Riviere looked to be through on goal, but Demi Stokes showed a great turn of pace to recover. Superb defending from the Manchester City left back.
Canada break the deadlock
But three minutes later, Canada took the lead. Nichelle Prince struck the bar from inside the box and Christine Sinclair was on hand to gobble up the rebound. The 180th goal of an illustrious international career for the Sinclair, who won’t have had many easier finishes. The talismanic Canadian is now just four goals away from equalling Abbie Wambach’s all time international goals record.
England responded positively to going a goal down, and nearly levelled within minutes. Stokes almost chalked up a rare international goal, but her deflected shot hit the side netting.
Youngster Georgia Stanway was thrown on as England searched for an equaliser. replacing her former Manchester City teammate Duggan.
But as England pushed forward, it was Canada who came closest to getting the game’s second goal. Beckie’s long range effort deflected off Steph Houghton. A wrong-footed Karen Bardsley could only watch as the ball whistled wide.
In the dying seconds, England were convinced they should have had a penalty. Substitute White burst forward dangerously before being tugged back by Kadeisha Buchanan. The referee waved away England protests. White was definitely being held, but this looked to stop just as she entered the penalty area. Unquestionably a free kick, but no penalty.
Back to reality for Lionesses
It was to be the final act of the night. England were arguably the better side in the second half after the visitors had the better of the opening 45. This was certainly a reality check for the Lionesses. Although Nikita Parris was a constant threat going forward, the hosts seemed to lack a potency in the final third. Admittedly, Fran Kirby was a notable absentee. England will be a much more dangerous attacking proposition when the Chelsea playmaker returns to the ranks.
However, one player who will not be returning for the World Cup is Jordan Nobbs. The midfield engine will be side-lined in France with an ACL injury, and her presence in the middle of the park was missed this evening. Playing Lucy Bronze out of position does not seem to be the answer. With the likes of Jade Moore and Jill Scott on the bench, and even Fara Williams still putting in match winning performances for Reading at the age of 35, the Jordan Nobbs problem can be solved without disrupting Bronze.
England play Spain on Tuesday, where Neville will be sure to experiment again. Plenty for Phil Neville to ponder as the magnificent Christine Sinclair edges closer to history.