ENGLAND MADE IT THREE WINS FROM THREE TO JOIN THE HOSTS THE NETHERLANDS AS THE ONLY TEAM TO FINISH THE GROUP STAGE WITH A 100% RECORD – MADE THEY WERE MADE TO WORK FOR THEIR WIN OVER PORTUGAL.
SPAIN WILL JOIN THEM IN THE QUARTER FINALS, BUT THEY COME OFF THE BACK IF TWO LOSSES AFTER SCOTLAND RESTORED SOME PRIDE IN WINNING 1-0.
HERE’S OUR REVIEW OF GROUP D:
FINAL THOUGHTS ON THE GROUP
Group D was the only group of the four that saw the two teams that were projected to advance complete the job.
But it was a delightful final match day on Thursday with the outcome of whom the second team would advance was only cemented at the final whistle. More importantly for the neutral spectator, after this group had a pair of decisive opening matches, the latter four matches were very competitive.
FOR THE TEAMS WHO ADVANCED, WHAT WORKED
England came into this tournament believing that they are not only good enough to be real contenders for the title, but have it set in their minds that they could win the tournament. And the way that they started out by putting six past Scotland, they were well on their way. But their victories over Spain and Portugal were anything but easy as they had to defend for almost the full 90 against Spain and Portugal gave them everything they could handle on Thursday.
Now, in that final match, Mark Sampson had the luxury to make ten changes from the team that played Spain, due to the fact that Group D teams had the shortest turnaround before playing in the quarterfinals on Sunday.
So you could expect some nervy moments in that Portugal match, but that won’t cover the fact that it was a fantastic group stage for England. They got three wins from three matches and only conceded once and will have fairly fresh legs to utilise when they take on France, who will be without two starting defenders on Sunday and are playing below their usual standards.
Spain have been a team on the rise for quite awhile now, as this is the second straight EUROs that they have qualified for the knockout stage, sandwiched around their Women’s World Cup debut in 2015. They deploy that famed “tiki-taka” style that has been synonymous with the Spanish game for years and have averaged over 70% possession through three games in this tournament with their passing completion rate close to 90%.
But they only have two goals to show so far and have squandered a number of chances, most notably in their stunning 1-0 loss to Scotland.
To be fair, they could have won this group or have gone level with England if they were more clinical in front of goal. Regardless, Jorge Vilda’s team will be satisfied that they are moving onto the knockout rounds and of the four quarterfinals matchups, they will be more than happy to draw Austria as their opponent instead of the team many people believed would win Group C, France. But Spain cannot afford to overlook Austria, who are absolutely flying at the moment and have experience from the group stage in problem-solving a possession dominant team in France.
But perhaps a loss to Scotland will be the wakeup call that this team needs heading into the knockout stage, because if they can get off to a flying start early on Sunday, it would be hard to bet against Spain.
FOR THE TEAMS WHO WERE ELIMINATED, WHAT DIDN’T GO RIGHT AND WHAT CAN THEY BUILD ON
Portugal were the long shot heading into the EUROs as they were the last to book their spot and the first ever squad to make the EUROS being drawn out of the 4th pot of teams prior to the beginning of qualification. And after their first match against Spain, they looked like a team that was over their head.
But Francisco Neto tweaked the lineup before their second match against Scotland and it worked perfectly, as Carolina Mendes scored the first of her two goals in the EUROs and Ana Leite scored the winner less than two minutes after coming on as a sub.
They followed it up with a game effort against England and nearly came away with a historic point, which would have qualified them for the quarters and have made them the real story of the tournament. We already knew that it was a big moment for the women’s game in Portugal by qualifying for the EUROs, but after giving a great showing in this tournament, the sky is the limit for this program in years to come.
Scotland unfortunately had the built-in excuse ready if they failed to qualify, as Kim Little, Emma Mitchell and Jen Beattie all missed the tournament due to injury and then to have their top available scorer, Jane Ross, pick up a shoulder injury in the England match.
Nobody would have faulted them for failing to advance past the group stage as those are four key players in the Scotland system. And after their rough showing against Portugal, it looked to be a quick venture in the Netherlands.
But Anna Signeul’s team dug in against Spain and were able to net a victory, confirming that each of the five EURO debutants picked up at least one win. Also, the Scotland team was able to give Signeul a nice send-off as the Spain victory was the last game she managed, completing a 12-year span with the national side. You will have to wonder though is this the end of an era for Scotland as they have five players with 100 caps, nine players aged 29-years or older and the possibility of rotation with a new boss. Only time will tell on that front.
MOST OUTSTANDING PLAYER OF THE GROUP
WINNER: Jodie Taylor (England)
HONORABLE MENTION: Millie Bright (England), Carolina Mendes (Portugal), Amanda Sampedro (Spain)
Admittedly, it was a toss between Jodie Taylor and Millie Bright for this honour. While Taylor posted her tremendous goal scoring mark in her two games played, Bright was equally good in the back line in her partnership with Steph Houghton. But, seeing that England really lacked a punch without the Arsenal Ladies striker against Portugal, Taylor gets the nod here.
She already had a unique track record where England had never lost in the six games when she had scored, highlighted of course by her opening goal in England’s 2-1 win over Canada in the World Cup quarterfinals.
But she etched her name deeper into England’s history books as she became the first Englishwoman to score a hat trick in a major senior tournament with her effort against Scotland. It has been a frustrating couple of seasons for Taylor as she’s been on-and-off injured since leaving the National Women’s Soccer League at the end of 2015 for Arsenal. But having a great start to the EUROs may be the thing that she needs heading into both the knockout rounds as well as the upcoming WSL season.