England extended their unbeaten streak to 25 games under Sarina Wiegman with an emphatic loss to 2011 World Cup winners Japan in Murcia.
If there was any fear that the momentum of Wiegman’s side would slow after a 0-0 draw with the Czech Republic last month followed by the 2-1 defeat of the United States at Wembley, then it has been comfortably put to bed against a historically tricky team as they continue to march towards the World Cup with expectations rising with every game.
The Lionesses have now scored 123 goals and conceded just six since Wiegman took charge in September 2021 and have won all seven games played outside the UK, scoring 44 goals and conceding none.
“We played a very good game,” Wiegman said. “It was a very attractive game with a lot of football. They played in a form that we didn’t have much against us so it was good to train. They changed a bit in the second half then they changed again so we had to adapt all the time. It’s really good to see the players doing so well and to see different players and to see substitutes coming in and doing a good job.
There were several changes to the squad that took to the pitch for the draw against the Czech Republic last month which ended a 15-game winning streak. However, many were imposed changes rather than being chosen by the manager. Only Millie Bright, who received the armband with injured Leah Williamson, remained in the back line, with Esme Morgan making her senior debut alongside Chelsea centre-back and Niamh Charles and Rachel Daly at full-back.
Beth Mead, making her 50th appearance for England, two days after being named the BBC’s Women’s Footballer of the Year, and Manchester United striker Alessia Russo returned to the front and Georgia Stanway was in place of Fran Kirby.
Lauren Hemp and Jordan Nobbs were also left out of this camp, while a minor injury to Alex Greenwood included and Lucy Bronze’s positive Covid tests alongside a minor injury saw them omitted from the matchday squad. (although Bronze returned a negative test before kick-off) with Wiegman saying “now is not the time to take chances”.
Wiegman had welcomed the challenge that would be posed by a technical Japanese side, but said she hoped England could dominate.
The Japanese were unbeaten in 13 games in all competitions before the trip to Spain – nine wins and four draws – with the team’s last loss coming in Iceland a year ago.
As the wind blew almost fiercely through the Pinatar Arena, England did just that despite the potential disruption of numerous changes.
It took two minutes for the Manchester United duo of Russo and Ella Toone to combine and for the latter to force a save from Ayaka Yamashita. Toone, who has signed a new contract with United, would come close again but she scuffed her shot as she swung over Chloe Kelly’s cross.
There was danger minutes later as Jun Endo floated the ball towards Arsenal’s Mana Iwabuchi, but those Japan moments were fleeting. Far less fleeting were Kelly’s precise flying crosses down the left as England sought the opener.
The heroine of the Euro final, just four months ago, was rife and could perhaps be frustrated by the debauchery of her teammates. In quick succession, she delivered twice for Russo, but the first was just past the striker and the second headed for the post six yards out. Russo could be forgiven, considering the striker only recently returned from injury.
In the 38th minute the story was the same, with Kelly’s cross missed by Russo but this time Daly came to power at the far post.
The full-back, who plays up front at club level, is constantly being considered for a more advanced role, Wiegman said. “She’s so versatile, she also played a really good game at full-back and she scored from that position,” she said. “She’s also an option to try up front, but we also have to look at the players we have available and what’s best for the team.”
In the second half, the Lionesses doubled their lead in style. Mead, released on the right, sent a cross from there which Russo couldn’t reach but Kelly was on hand to fire past Yamashita.
The 64th-minute introduction of Ebony Salmon and Lauren James for Russo and Kelly upped the ante and 12 minutes later they were both involved as Toone collected Salmon’s reverse pass and sent in the third from England with his left foot.
The fourth spoke of the depth and power of the European champions’ side, with Salmon delivering from the right and substitute Jess Park firing from close range shortly after coming off the bench to make his debut.
The Lionesses take on Norway on Tuesday in their final game of 2022.