BRIGHTON, England — It took just 18 minutes for a booming chorus of “It’s Coming Home” to start echoing around the American Express Community stadium on Monday. England were already 2-0 up against main Group A opposition Norway and, despite train issues delaying some fans’ arrival at the stadium, the mood was positively jubilant.
That feeling only increased as England went on to smash eight goals past their rivals, the biggest drubbing ever in the tournament’s history and Norway’s largest defeat ever. There had been questions over England after their opening game against Austria where they had scraped a 1-0 win. Some had pointed out that striker Ellen White had not scored since April for her country and she managed just four goals in 22 games for Manchester City last season. Would Beth England or Alessia Russo be a better shout to start? The pressure of hosting a major tournament also had seemed to get to Sarina Wiegman’s side and the Austria win was a gritty performance rather than a convincing one.
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Wiegman did what she always does, however, and put her faith in her players and stuck with the same lineup on Monday and she was rewarded for that loyalty. While the opening penalty involved a dubious dive from White, every goal after that was richly deserved as England took advantage of Norway’s near-invisible defense. Beth Mead got a hat trick — only the sixth one in the tournament’s history — and White got a brace. Georgia Stanway, Lauren Hemp and Russo all showed that the side isn’t reliant on just one person with their goals.
It was a record breaking night with no side ever scoring more than five goals in a half in Euros history. They’re also the first team to score eight goals in a Euros match. England mauled Norway in a battle that could have seen them put in more. England had an average shot conversion rate of 54.5% in the first half. The average conversion in a game is 14.3%. They extended their team-record unbeaten streak to 16 games, all under Wiegman. They’ve scored 93 goals in that time and conceded just three.
“To be honest I thought: ‘What is going on?'” Wiegman said after the game when asked what she felt when England went 6-0 up before half-time.
“I was a little surprised they didn’t put more pressure on us, more pressure on the ball. We were just playing our game, looking for spaces. They went five at the back but we still found space.
“Sometimes when you’re 6-0 up, players start to do different things and look at their own game. We didn’t do that.”
It is another impressive win for England after they beat the Netherlands 5-1 before the tournament started. Norway were a team that many had pinned down to go deep into the competition but their defensive frailties were clear to see and their world class attack weren’t given a minute to get a shot off as England pressed high. Despite possessing talent like Ada Hegerberg, Caroline Graham Hansen and Guro Reiten, Norway managed just one shot on target all game. Talented players like Julie Blakstad, who is an explosive winger but was deployed at left-back, were played out of position by Norway manager Martin Sjogren and it showed as his defensive set up crumbled time and time again. Other players such as Maria Thorisdottir had a night they will want to forget quickly.
It is a wonder that changes weren’t made by Sjogren sooner in the first half as England continually found success down the right channel. Although, it was something that he admitted after the game.
“We thought we had a plan. We opened the game well for the first 10 minutes but the last 80 minutes were horrible,” he said.
“Maybe we should have come out in a different way to what we did. We were talking much more about playing the ball forward. It’s my responsibility tonight. It shouldn’t fall back on the players on a night like this.”
Lucy Bronze was pivotal in the build-up play, absolutely dictating from the right flank. She would send ball after ball down to Hemp, Mead and White who took turns crossing balls into the box to each other. While the Norway defense didn’t turn up, it can’t be denied that England played extremely slickly. Mead in particular had one of the best games of her life and was richly rewarded with Player of the Match and loud chants of “Meado, Meado, Meado.” Her second goal on 38 minutes was an exceptional piece of play where she cut inside Blakstad, cut inside again and fired her shot past Guro Pettersen in goal.
England’s place in the quarterfinals is now guaranteed and a win against Northern Ireland — who can’t qualify for the knockout rounds after this result — will make sure that they top the group. Wiegman’s challenge, then, will be completely different to the opening two games. England’s title hopes will be sent into overdrive now, and she will need to keep her players grounded. Another high scoring result is likely against Northern Ireland but sterner challenges away with either Germany or Spain their likely opponents in the next round.
“It is three points if you win 1-0 or 8-0, we didn’t win anything yet,” Wiegman warned, well aware of the challenge that faces each side.
England have shown they are impressive in the early stages of major international competitions before struggling in the knockout rounds, but there is a different feeling around this squad. Maybe these Lionesses will be the ones to go all the way.