This was just a friendly, on paper anyway. In reality, it was far from it. The European champions versus the world champions in front of a 76,891 crowd at Wembley. It would have been worthy of a World Cup final — and in nine months’ time it could be.
Three years ago England were beaten 2-1 by the US in the semi-final of the 2019 World Cup. The scoreline said it was a narrow defeat but in reality the Lionesses were some way off their rivals. The US were stronger, fitter and had the know-how to get over the line.
So what has changed? Belief. After winning the Euros, England now believe they can beat the US and last night they did.
The Lionesses beat the current World Champions USA in a friendly at Wembley Stadium
Lauren Hemp netted the opening goal for the Lionesses against the USA at Wembley
There were three young stars on the scoresheet, with Lauren Hemp and Georgia Stanway netting for England while Sophia Smith got the visitors’ goal. There were shades of 2019 but in reverse as England took the lead, were pegged back, but took the lead again with the help of VAR.
Sarina Wiegman had said the gap between the US and the European nations had narrowed. She is right. She is rarely wrong. It is now 23 games unbeaten as England boss. There is no getting away from it, this was a statement win.
‘It was very intense, very open and very competitive. It’s what you can expect from the USA and us too,’ Wiegman said. ‘We can take lots of things from this. We don’t win a World Cup now but it’s really good to have this moment and this game, in this environment with all the people around cheering for us.
‘The top countries have developed very much. The whole women’s game is developing but it’s good to have a test against the USA as they have won so many things over so many years. But it’s now October and not July yet.’
The match took place against the backdrop of the Sally Yates report, which found abuse and misconduct to be ‘systemic’ in the United States’ top flight of women’s football.
Sophia Smith, an influential presence throughout, scored an quick equaliser for the visitors
England (4-2-3-1): Earps 7, Bronze 7, Bright 7, Greenwood 7.5, Daly 7.5, Walsh 7.5, Stanway 7, Kelly 6.5 (James 90+1), Kirby 6.5 (Toone 68, 6.5), Hemp 8.5, Mead 8
Subs not used: Roebuck, MacIver, Morgan, Zelem, Wubben-Moy, Carter, Parris, Park, Stokes, Salmon
Goals: Hemp 10, Stanway 33
Manager: Sarina Wiegman 7
United States (4-3-3): Naeher 6, Huerta 6 (Dunn 63, 6), Girma 6 (Sauerbruun 83), Cook 5, Fox (Mace 22, 6), Sullivan 6.5 (Coffey 62, 6), Horan 7, Lavelle 7, Rodman 7, Smith 8, Rapinoe 7 (Thompson 83)
Subs not used: Murphy, Kingsbury, Sanchez, Hatch, Thompson, Howell, Mewis, Demelo
Booked: Mace, Rodman
Goals: Smith 28
Manager: Vlatko Andonovski 6
Referee: Riem Hussein 6
In a show of solidarity to the victims, England’s players joined the US team in wearing teal armbands and stood behind a banner reading ‘Protect the Players’. It was a defiant act of unity and a reminder of how much still needs to be done to protect women’s footballers worldwide.
Finally, attention turned to the pitch. England were without captain Leah Williamson and striker Alessia Russo while the US were without striker Alex Morgan, still remembered for her tea-drinking celebration in the World Cup win over England.
England’s injuries meant Lauren Hemp occupied the No 9 spot. Many expected Beth Mead to play there. We should know by now to trust Wiegman’s decision-making.
Just over 10 minutes had passed before England’s new No 9 had opened the scoring. It was created by Mead, who drove down the right and sent in a cross which was deflected into Hemp’s path by Alanna Cook, the forward squeezing the ball under US keeper Alyssa Naeher.
There is a lot of hype around Hemp and just how good she can be, but she was not the only exciting player on show. There has also been a buzz around America’s Sophia Smith. Twenty-eight minutes in, she brought the visitors level.
England were the constructs of their own downfall as Millie Bright put Georgia Stanway under pressure with a weak pass on the edge of her box. The midfielder was outmuscled by Lindsey Horan and the ball dropped to Smith, who fired into the bottom right corner past Mary Earps.
But Stanway and England responded as the midfielder restored the hosts’ lead from the penalty spot just five minutes later. Hailie Mace, who had replaced the injured Emily Fox midway through the half, caught Lucy Bronze with a high foot inside the box.
Referee Riem Hussein originally waved play on, but VAR instructed her to check the monitor and award a penalty. Stanway converted into the bottom right corner.
The US thought they had equalised four minutes later only for VAR to intervene again. Smith was involved once more as her cross was flicked on by Megan Rapinoe to Trinity Rodman, who fired into the bottom right corner. But Smith was offside.
Georgia Stanway scored the winning goal in the first half as she netted from the spot
Smith continued to cause havoc at the start of the second half and nearly brought the USA level again as she sent an effort just wide of the far post. As she lit up one end, Hemp starred at the other.
The forward stole the ball off Cook and burst down the wing before crossing for Bronze at the back-post, but the full-back could only send a shot into the side-netting.
Ten minutes from time the US were awarded a penalty as Hemp was adjudged to have handled in the box. Rose Lavelle’s shot had in fact hit her rear and the decision was correctly overturned.
On Friday night, everything went in England’s favour. Unlike 2019, they were not complaining.
The win for the Lionesses mean that they remain unbeaten under manager Sarina Wiegman