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Kelly Smith: England will learn from complacent second half against Scotland

Kelly Smith: England will learn from complacent second half against Scotland

A game of two halves

I thought the Lionesses looked really good for the first 10-15 minutes in the England v Scotland match, they were crisp on the ball, seemed confident and grew into the game. Those opening minutes, they really raised their game. It was a solid first half performance, going into the break on a 2-0 lead and being confident going in for the second half.

Then after the break it was the opposite story, they took their foot off the gas, and relaxed too much which allowed Scotland to come into the game. For the last part of the match, England were on edge, struggling to try and close out the game but it was a massive game for them because of the expectation and pressure on them.

That first match is just about winning, getting those three points and not losing. The set up and the performance which wasn’t great, all that aside and I think that the team can be happy with the outcome and coming out with a victory.

I just think they relaxed and thought the game was – dangerously – comfortably won. A few errors creeped in when they had possession and hopefully they now know that against the better teams you need to stay fully concentrated for the whole 90 minutes.

But there were some outstanding performances to take away from that game, especially down the right-hand side with Lucy Bronze and Nikita Parris; their understanding of each other’s overlapping and working together was great. Beth Mead was great on the left too and Ellen White was a workhorse. She was always a threat and it showed with a goal. Across the front line, it was very dynamic and it was dominant in the opening 45 minutes.

As I said, it’s the first game, don’t overthink too much because that one is all about winning.

People care about women’s football now

If you make the game visible, then the interest is there for the UK public to watch women’s football. People harp on about there being no interest in the women’s game but this match showed you that there is. The Lionesses doing well will inspire a whole new generation of girls because they see this batch of England players performing at such a high level. They are role models now for anyone who is watching and playing the game; the people and children are thinking “I can do that.” It’s accepted now, where it wasn’t before.

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It’s about changing perception, normalising it across boys and girls. Now you can see by the attendances and the 6.1 million viewing figure, people care about the game. And I know that everyone at the FA are thrilled at those numbers.

Millie may or may not be injured but others can shine bright

Phil Neville uses Millie Bright as one of his main centre-backs alongside Steph Houghton but Abbie McManus and Leah Williamson have had a lot of game time over the past 15 months, both at club level, and the latter has bags of experience at Arsenal winning the league this season and McManus for Manchester City, two of the top clubs. There should be no issue for either one of them to slot in along Houghton.

They’ve both been given ample opportunities to perform for England and even though Bright is a bit stronger and physical, the others bring different attributes. Williamson is more technical on the ball but it’s honestly not a problem for that squad because of the depth and experience they have. A couple of changes shouldn’t affect the way the team plays.

Conquering the “Group of Death”

When you looked at Group D, you would have had either England or Japan likeliest to top it. So Japan dropping two early points has really blown the race wide open.

Everyone expected them to beat Argentina, their rivals have had such a lack of investment in the Argentinian women’s game and for two years they didn’t play a match competitively. They had no coach, no meet-ups, nothing. So for them to get their first ever point in a World Cup against a team who won the competition eight years ago, is a big result, and great for them and their country.

They were tough to beat defensively, they were organised and had a gameplan to not concede. They didn’t create much going forward but they will pose a different threat to England and Scotland, they’ll set up the same way as they did in their first match, very defensive but England have the talent to break them down, both starting and impact players off the bench. And I think the Lionesses will go for it like they just did, they’ll want to showcase their confidence against an Argentinian team that will sit back, be difficult to try and beat and counter-attack through Sole Jaimes up front.

Scots to shock

I can see Scotland beating Japan in the other group game, from the way the Scots performed and the players that they have. Japan for me, are really good technically on the ball but don’t offer a lot up top. They don’t score many goals and you could see them struggling to break Argentina down. They also didn’t create many shots on target and I believe that Scotland have better attacking players in Erin Cuthbert, Caroline Weir and Kim Little. Scotland might turn Japan over.

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If they do, England are potentially in the driving seat for that last group game against Japan, Neville could even rotate and give other members of his squad playing time. The Lionesesses beat them in the SheBelieves cup 3-0 and going into that game knowing they beat them comfortably recently, it’ll give them a lot more confidence.

VAR unrealistic for defenders

I’m a fan of Video Assistant Referees but so far I’ve not liked it for handballs. In the England v Scotland match the handball on Nicola Docherty was very harsh; I know the rule has changed and you have to keep your arms down but if I was still playing, and I had the ball in the box looking to cross it and I can’t, I will try and play that ball into the opposition’s arm to try and get a penalty.

Defenders now have to do their job with their arms behind their back or in an unnatural position, so when they try and put a foot out to stop a cross coming in they have to fight against the natural reaction to put their arm out. It’s unrealistic for defenders to keep their hands down and a little harsh I think, but in terms of offsides, red cards etc it’s doing a really good job apart from the time it takes to make one of those calls.

It takes around two or three minutes for an offside and it’s delaying the game and slowing it down. It does need to be addressed, it needs to be quicker from the control room to the referee. Maybe they need that time to make the correct call but for me, it seems too long.

Standouts so far

Italy were a nice surprise package for me, beating Australia 2-1, with Barbara Bonansea stepping up to the occasion. They had two goals ruled offside and rattled a quite disappointing Australian team. They were lacklustre defensively and looked shaky with playing such a high line against a team that had pace, it didn’t make sense to me. So that was an upset.

Canada, as well, looked very solid in their 1-0 win over Cameroon, and now have better technical players in the team, in particular Jessie Fleming, who is very good technically and is complemented with pacy players down the wings too. With Christine Sinclair as a striker, they’re going to cause teams trouble.

I’ve been really impressed with how France started so well against Korea Republic, who aren’t an easy team to play, to really set the tone of the tournament.

The two teams that I think have looked the best so far is both them and Norway, even without Ada Hederberg they still have so much talent in attack; Caroline Hansen is so creative, Guru Reiten, who has just signed for Chelsea, was dominant and have a great front line with Isabell Herlovsen. They don’t rotate too many times so their team chemistry and understanding is like no other. Both these teams have absolutely stood out and I can see them going far.

If you missed it, catch what Kelly Smith had to say in our Women’s World Cup Preview Podcast:

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