Amsterdam — England clicked into gear to qualify for the World Cup knock-out stages, putting in a fine defensive shift which left players on their knees at the hooter. From tiredness to Terrassa, England are off and running and flying to Spain on Friday.
So are their corner routines, two strikes which saw them past China 2-0 and avert early World Cup soul-searching.
David Ralph’s side were sharp in the backlines from the outset, stemming China corners to a premium while Izzy Petter’s running shone once more, copping one to the hand and a damaged nail after one block for good measure. Behind her, Maddie Hinch didn’t touch a legal ball throughout.
“That was one of our best defensive performances of this group full stop,” captain Hollie Pearne-Webb said. “We were really strong and people really stayed in it.”
Up field, Laura Unsworth, then Shona McCallin and Fiona Crackles found control in midfield – the former jabbing, intercepting and finding clever spaces – while Lily Owsley, once again leaving opponents sticks rooted to their spot, and Tess Howard looked ever more threatening.
And with their 17th corner attempt of this World Cup, Balsdon flicked into the corner, the goal standing after a video referral. Eight minutes later, Ansley struck low to evade an array of sticks. China had valid reasons to remonstrate vociferously as to whether the ball had passed the circle, but to no avail with no referral in the offing.
The two-goal cushion proved a hard one to shift for England to make the game safe. In a compact circle, it was going to take a moment of brilliance to break down China further.
Howard did just that in the second quarter, tapping on to her backhand but hitting straight at Ping Liu. Or there was Owsley running in from the left, ball glued to stick, and winning England’s second corner.
For all their possession, China barely made inroads at Hinch. When they entered the circle, there was an English intercept, their outletting and passing range in check.
It allowed for the counter, with chances few and far between in a second-half which saw England take their foot off the gas.
Ralph was becoming more animated, urging England forward. With no Dutch support to add some spark, his vocals carried weight in the semi-frantic nature of the last 10 minutes. One goal would have put this final group game on the edge. But China’s search proved futile in a stoic return for England’s backs.