IAN HERBERT: Was England’s 8-0 demolition of Norway simply spectacular… or a spectacle Euro 2022 did not need? The defending from a fully-professional team was SHOCKING to behold
- England blew Norway away in a stunning first-half display at the Amex Stadium
- The hosts were 6-0 up by 45 minutes with braces for Ellen White and Beth Mead
- Georgia Stanway and Lauren Hemp also got in on the action in the first half
- Alessia Russo headed just after the hour mark, before Mead scored her third
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Before the goals came tumbling in and all hell was let loose, Millie Bright shut out the early threat of Ada Hegerberg, one of the continent’s great players, pressing the space with composure and watchfulness.
Hegerberg insisted after her team had conceded a solitary goal to Northern Ireland that ‘we can’t let this happen again.’ There were fears for an England defence whose four starting personnel were all right-footed.
If all the dark horses defend like Norway, though, attack will be the only form of defence needed. The notion that Norway have advanced as a side since England beat them 3-0 in the last World Cup was shredded as utterly as their defence was cut away.
Beth Mead’s first major tournament hat-trick saw England cruise past Norway 8-0 in Brighton
For a time, as Elllen White advanced screaming down the right touchline for each restart and the dominant children’s voices in the crowd squealed ‘football’s coming home’, there was only euphoria.
In those moments, you remembered Georgia Stanway, an emerging star at the last World Cup, so startled to be selected to face Japan that Phil Neville told her ‘to pretend you’re in the park, playing with your friends.’
And then you watched her here, thrashing home the penalty won by Ellen White which was the only remotely dubious part of the whole affair. Bullying her way into possession and running her team-mates in behind the straw defence.
But it was when the fifth goal went in that the night morphed from something spectacular into a spectacle which was not actually serving this tournament as much as it might.
Mead completed her hat-trick in the 81st minute, having scored twice in a stunning first half
For England to have put away the part-timers of Northern Ireland, players mostly juggling football with student lives, in such a way would have been one thing. But this a fully professional Norway team.
Three of its four starting defenders play in the WSL. Five of its starting team play in that same division, for Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal – not the kind of clubs that are routinely hammered each week.
Norway were no match for England physically
If you’re looking for some justification, then Manchester City’s Julie Blakstad playing at centre half when she is actually a winger, provides a tinge of it.
But a level of technical deficiency, shocking to behold, removed any strand of competitive interest in a game which was billed as the stand-out fixture of this group. Norway’s physical fitness was nowhere near England’s.
Norway manager Martin Sjogren waited until the second half, and a 6-0 deficit, to go to five at the back, but England still found spaces. Manchester United’s Maria Thorisdottir should have been put out of her misery at half time but was not.
Sjögren fronted up on Monday night, though he offered no real explanation. ‘We made some very bad mistakes,’ he said. We were talking about playing the ball forward more. It’s my responsibility tonight. It shouldn’t fall back on the players on a night like this.’
Take your pick from the many moments of quite exquisite English attacking play. Beth Mead’s giddying run and around the fringe of the six-yard box before despatching the fourth was the finest. Her pace with a ball at her feet is something to behold.
But an element of jeopardy and dramatic tension is the necessary component of any football contest which is to live in the memory. Sarina Wiegman could afford to make three of her four substitutions and still see her players go on to complete the biggest win in Women’s Euros history.
Ellen White also scored a brace in the first half before being substituted after the interval
It was an extreme manifestation of a pattern which we have seen in the first week of this tournament, with a fundamental defensive capability missing in teams from which we expected to see something better. Germany hammered Denmark 4-0. France beat Italy 5-1.
Spain beating Finland was more expected, though the Spanish at least provided some evidence of a rearguard. Irene Paredes and María Pilar León impressed in central defence.
Spain and Germany meet on Wednesday night in Brentford and the losers will face England here next Wednesday. Wiegman will hope for equally fragile opposition then. The tournament requires something far, far better.