By Neil Leverett
- England women face Argentina in their crucial second Group D match at Stade Oceana in Le Havre, on Friday evening
- Lionesses won opening clash on Sunday, edging out Scotland 2-1 in all-British clash
- Phil Neville’s side can all but guarantee progress to last 16 with win, depending on result of earlier Japan vs Scotland game in Paris
LE HAVRE, FRANCE – Five days on from their opening game victory against Scotland, England’s women face old foe Argentina looking to book their place in the knockout stages.
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England resume Argentine rivalry
Few fixtures stand out from the calendar more than when England and Argentina meet – particular in football – and with a sporting rivalry stretching back to the 1960’s, the two meet again on Friday evening as England women’s face off with their South American counterparts in their vital Group D clash in Le Havre.
Having opened their 2019 World Cup account with a narrow 2-1 win in Sunday’s Battle of Britain against Scotland in Nice, the Lionesses will look to record back-to-back wins against the Argentines, and all but guarantee their passage into the knockout stages.
An opening win was demanded by Head Coach Phil Neville and achieved, but after defeating Shelley Kerr‘s resilient Scotswomen, Albicelestes will present another altogether different challenge, after they themselves held a Japan side ranked World number seven to a goalless draw last Monday.
Having seen many a battle between the two countries on the sports field over the years, northern France on the eve of the weekend will likely see another pitched battle, to gain the upper hand in the duel for the last 16.
Lionesses’ stubborn test
Goals from Nikita Parris and Ellen White were enough to seal England’s opening win last weekend, but as the world number three nation face the team 24 places down the standings, nothing will be taken for granted on Friday night in Normandy.
After frustrating Japan with a significant physicality advantage, Carlos Borrello‘ charges grew in confidence and could have on another occasion snatched a shock win, which have set the metaphorical cat and amongst the pigeons in Group D.
Despite failing to score a single goal in this year’s inaugural Cup of Nations held in Australia – playing New Zealand, hosts the Matildas and South Korea – conceding a total ten goals in three games, Argentina are a fast improving side that are building a reputation on shutting the opposition out.
Setting up in a 4-5-1 system, Albicelestes will likely put the shutters up early against the English, with Miriam Mayorga, Ruth Bravo and Lorena Benitez tasked with protecting the back line as they did so well on Monday.
Should Argentina keep the opposition out, the offensive threats of Sole Jaimes could come into play with the Lyon striker having scored six times in 13 games, whilst after Scotland found England’s weakness on the right of defence, winger Florencia Bonsegundo will force Lucy Bronze to be on her metal.
In the build up to the tournament, England suffered surprise defeats to Commonwealth duo Canada and New Zealand – two sides that were well below the English level. After failing to break respective resolute teams down, the ladies in white were caught out and that must be guarded against once more here. It could prove to nervous evening in Le Havre.
On the offensive
England meanwhile will be on the attack from the opening whistle, but patience may need to be enforced to break the Argentina resistance. Whilst on paper the Lionesses should prove to be too strong however, it is their offensive arsenal that can win the day.
Both Parris and White will be buoyed to have open their accounts, but Fran Kirby will likely be England’s ace in the hole. Dubbed ‘the female Messi’, the diminutive 5’2′ Chelsea schemer will be he key to unlocking the back line.
Neville’s side will enjoy the bulk of possession but it could be from set-pieces where England’s hopes lie. Skipper Steph Houghton has led with her heart of the sleeve for over a decade now, and with 106 caps under her belt might prove to lead her country to victory with an impressive 12 goals to her name.
Options from the bench for the Lionesses are many should they still need the breakthrough, and though White has pushed both Toni Duggan and Jodie Taylor to substitute roles, both Barcelona and Reign forwards carry with them reams of experience and are very much ‘plan B’ if a new blueprint are needed.
Only second meeting
Whilst the men’s national sides have met 15 times since 1951, Friday night’s meeting will be only the second time the teams will do battle. The first occasion was also in the World Cup 12 years ago in China, when Hope Powell‘s side dished out a thrashing in Chengdu.
After Eva Gonzalez‘s ninth-minute own goal, Jill Scott rubbed salt in the wounds a minute later before Farah Williams made it three, five minutes into the second period.
Gonzalez then made amends to net what turned out to be a consolation, before Kelly Smith scored a second half brace, as Vicky Exley scored from the penalty spot in the final minute to complete a 6-1 drubbing.
In what was the fifth edition of the women’s competition, England finished second behind eventual winners Germany in the group stages, forcing a quarter-final against the United States. Powell’s side were sent packing following a 3-0 loss in Tianjin.
England’s women face Argentina in the their second Group D World Cup clash on Friday night at Stade Oceana in Le Havre, France, kick-off 8pm UK time
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