England 1-1 Brazil (Toone 23’ | Andressa 90+3′) (England win 4-2 on penalties)
WEMBLEY STADIUM – Sarina Wiegman’s puffer jacket may have suggested that the summer and the World Cup are a long way off. On the contrary, England know they will not get many better chances to show they are ready for that tournament than with a win over Brazil – but a late equaliser from Andressa Alves meant they had to earn their statement win on penalties.
It was a Finalissima of firsts. The women’s fixture had never before been played at this ground and there was a debut too for the Lionesses’ navy shorts, introduced in a landmark change due to players’ concerns over playing in white while on their periods.
Amidst those changes, there was a familiar comfort to be had in the sight of Ella Toone wheeling away as she capped a perfect team goal from the Lionesses.
A vertical ball over the top split Brazil’s back three and Georgia Stanway sent Lucy Bronze away on the right. Without a second’s pause, instead of opting for the cross Bronze cut inside to Toone, who finished from 10 yards. It required little of the technique of her chip that tied the Euro 2022 final here nine months ago, though who else but the legend of that day Chloe Kelly to score the winning penalty?
The likes of Toone’s Manchester United team-mate Katie Zelem were understandably disappointed to have been overlooked for Wiegman’s squad this time around. Yet it’s impossible to squeeze in all of England’s talent into a midfield three, particularly when Stanway and Toone’s pressing is so central to the Lionesses’ new-look attack.
Alessia Russo would ordinarily be seen as the conventional centre-forward pinned in between Lauren James and Lauren Hemp. Instead she dragged herself wide on both sides, giving England enough width to overload Brazil again and again.
Russo will probably accept that she may never score as many goals for her country as Ellen White, who was presented with a commemorative Golden Boot at half time to mark her place as England Women’s record goalscorer. In terms of versatility, she might just offer more.
An opponent like Brazil was an opportunity to test all of these dynamics. They may not be considered among the real favourites for the World Cup, possibly the result of Euro-centricism more than anything else, but back home they are already considered heroes.
When the men’s team became a symbol of Jair Bolsonaro’s reign, hijacked by the right, Brazil’s Women were the antidote. Their names began appearing on the back of the famous yellow shirts like never before. In the stands, men’s No 9 Richarlison looked down on them with pride.
Once thought of as a team of veterans, this is Brazil’s new generation and its coming of age makes England’s victory all the more impressive. Beatriz was playing in World Cups when she was below Brazil’s school leaving age but she will be there again in July, leading the way.
When you put aside the return of the much-maligned England brass band, the only unfortunate thing about the whole evening for Wiegman’s players was that Brazil were very difficult to pre-empt. Arsenal defender Rafaelle Souza offered one of their greatest threats from set pieces; on the other hand, Geyse’s pace was equally difficult to manage.
The Barcelona forward broke clear of Jess Carter, muscled her off the ball and turned her the wrong way. A late Carter block sent her effort over the top. It was a rare occasion when England were dispossessed in midfield, with Keira Walsh subtlety controlling proceedings.
Leah Williamson could have played England into trouble with a short pass that failed to find Bronze. Even if the captain is a close friend of Rafaelle courtesy of their time spent together at club level, she would not have been amused to allow Brazil so easy an equaliser had Mary Earps not rescued her. Williamson was lucky not to make a similar error moments earlier with another nonchalant ball out from the back.
None of that stopped England enjoying themselves, James’ step-overs typical of the swagger with which the European champions now play. Geyse responded with a few of her own and nearly had an assist. Williamson herself was in the way that time.
Stanway will have felt the same relief when she was robbed of the ball near her own box to tee up Geyse, whose strike was parried onto the crossbar by Earps.
Since winning the Euros England have already beaten the USA and have now surpassed the Copa America Femenina winners thanks to Earps’ two shoout saves. Now to the rest of the world.