Lionesses’ second half comeback floors Dutch

England celebrate after scoring a goal against Belgium in the Nations League
England's striker Lauren Hemp (C) celebrates scoring the opening goal during the UEFA Women's Nations League football Group A match between England and Belgium, at the King Power Stadium in Leicester, central England on October 27, 2023. (Photo by Darren Staples / AFP) / NOT FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING USE / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE (Photo by DARREN STAPLES/AFP via Getty Images)

A late winner from Ella Toone completed a magnificent second-half comeback for England as they beat the Netherlands 3-2 at Wembley on Friday night. The Lionesses showed great strength

Coming into the final set of fixtures of 2023, Sarina Wiegman’s team knew only a win here and in Scotland on Tuesday night would be enough to keep their hopes of reaching the semi-finals — and Team GB’s Olympic qualification hopes — alive.

First half starts with anticipation for Lionesses

The Lionesses started brightly and within the opening 10 minutes, created several good chances.

Lauren James and Lauren Hemp both headed wide inside five minutes and Fran Kirby nearly capitalised on confusion in the Dutch backline before the visitors eventually cleared their lines.

However, as has been the story of England’s inaugural Nations League campaign, it wasn’t all plain sailing and with nine minutes played, the Dutch took the lead in somewhat controversial circumstances with their first effort on goal of the night.

James played Hemp in down the England left and the Man City flyer got a rasping shot away which was heading for the far corner but for an excellent fingertip save from Daphne van Domselaar.

To everyone in the ground, it should’ve been an England corner, but the officials gave a goal kick. From that resulting good fortune, the visitors took the lead barely 30 seconds later thanks to a wonderful ball infield from Victoria Pelova took out the England backline to find Lineth Beerensteyn.

The Juve forward took the ball in her stride before composing herself to neatly finish through the legs of Jess Carter, leaving skipper for the night Mary Earps with no chance to silence most of the near 72,000-strong crowd at Wembley.

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Lionesses fall into errors

It was nearly two just after 20 minutes as Sherida Spitse’s corner found Jill Roord at the back post who hit the crossbar with a looping shot.

England seemed to settle and regain the attacking momentum they started with. James fired over from 20 yards and Keira Walsh had a goalbound effort blocked in the six-yard box as we approached the half-hour mark.

And then with 10 minutes left of the first half, the Oranje doubled their lead as more uncertain England defending and questionable officiating added to the Lionesses’ woes.

Regaining possession following a long clearance forward, the ball found Lieke Mertens who flicked the ball onto Beerensteyn who looked to be in an offside position.

The assistant kept her flag down allowing Beerensteyn to jink past Alex Greenwood and get a shot away low to Earps’ right.

England’s number one got a hand to the ball, but it squirmed away from her and trickled over the line to leave the home side with a mountain to climb.

Chloe Kelly nearly hit back with a fine effort from a distance that whistled just past Van Domselaar’s post.

Half time came with the hosts unlucky to go in behind in an attacking sense, but ruing the defensive frailties that have proved their undoing throughout this Nations League campaign.

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Second half

The second half began with was up to that point the biggest cheer of the night as Beth Mead made her long-awaited return to international football in place of Chloe Kelly.

Again, England started well in the attacking third but just lacked the final ball or killer instinct.

And then, with an hour gone, England finally broke the Dutch resistance thanks to an absolute peach of a ball from all of 30 yards from the wand of Lauren James that found Georgia Stanway in the box who evaded the attention of Esmee Brugge to power home a header across the goal to reduce the deficit.

Less than a minute later, the scores were level.

Some lovely passing around the Dutch defence eventually found Stanway in the 18-yard box. With her back to goal, she laid the ball in front of her to a waiting Hemp who hit a low, first-time shot from the edge of the box past the despairing dive of Van Domselaar to mark her 50th cap in stunning fashion. 

All square at 2-2 and England were purring now as the rewards for their efforts seemed to transform them as they searched for more.

Final push in the game

With 10 minutes to play, Mead nearly marked her return in the best way possible. A lovely flick-on from Ella Toone (more from her later) into the path of James gave her another chance to deliver a cross in which found Mead at the back post who put her header just wide.

Undeterred, still the Lionesses marauded forward. Toone seeing her shot deflected away for a corner from which Greenwood headed wide. Alessia Russo too had an effort that gave the away side cause for alarm.

Andries Jonker’s side were still a threat though, and Earps was at her brilliant best to push away a Dutch effort and keep the scores level as the game ticked into injury time.

And then came that moment that lit up a freezing December night in London. Yet another sublime Lauren James ball towards the back post found Toone (told you she’d be back) who timed her run to perfection to side-foot the first touch through the legs of Van Domselaar and send Wembley crazy.

Not satisfied, they went in search of a fourth which would’ve seen them end the night top of the group courtesy of a superior head-to-head record.

Mead had a shot blocked, but England retained possession and yet another pin-point ball in from James (I don’t know if people know yet, but she’s really good) found Russo, but the Arsenal forward couldn’t direct her toe poke on target thanks to good defending from Merel van Dongen.

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The full-time whistle brought the curtain down on a wonderful night’s entertainment at Wembley and one which leaves England’s chances of making the semi-finals still alive, although not in their own hands as they head to Hampden for another must-win fixture on Tuesday night.

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