England vs Croatia – liveblog!

Please Manually Update – we’re having technical issues!

Full Time – England Women 3 – 0 Croatia Women!

The referee puts the whistle to her lips and that’s your lot.  A comfortable victory in the end and England are off to Sweden for Euro 2013.  I’ll be back later to put together a bit of a round up on the qualifiers and likely qualifiers for next year’s tournament.  Thanks for joining us this evening, let’s hope that more of these games turn up on mainstream TV, shall we?

Have a great evening!

Tactical Shift!

Since Toni Duggan came on, Eni Aluko has almost switched back into the midfield, breaking forward whenever Duggan drifts out to the right.  And then she gets named player of the match.  Good few minutes for her, then.  Think Bacic can feel a bit hard done by there, but it’s difficult to take the glory when you’re on the wrong end of a 3-0 scoreline.

In the Book

Alex Scott picks up a yellow card for a silly bit of petulance on the Croatian goal-line.  Claire Rafferty has come on for goalscorer Casey Stoney, Steph Houghton moves to centre half for the last few minutes.

10 Minutes Left

Well, 6 and a bit plus some injury time.  Toni Duggan looks a player.  Euro 2013 might come a little too soon for her to be a starter, but she’ll be there or thereabouts for a long time to come.

Ah, those attendance figures confirmed as 5,821.  For an early evening kick off outside of London, that isn’t at all bad.  And for anyone that missed it, Trevor Brooking floated the idea of at least one England Women’s game at Wembley next year.  Great legacy.

Goal – 3 – 0 England!

Casey Stoney with a faultless drive from Karen Carney’s cut back.  Drilled into the bottom corner.  Lovely finish from the centre half.  Did we mention it was game over?

Standing Ovation

Record cap holder Rachel Yankey comes off, debutant Toni Duggan comes on.  Talk about opposite ends of the spectrum.  The Everton forward, at 21 years of age, is a real prospect for England.  5 goals in 11 FA Women’s Super League appearances this season.

On That Atmosphere Thing…

Again from the BBC, attendance figures have ended up better than good for this game.  The early kick-off really did hurt things this evening with a great many people pouring in as the game has progressed.  Delighted to see so many faces out there to watch the England team this evening.

Another save from Bacic there, tipping Aluko’s shot onto the post.  Not a great save, but enough.

Looking Ahead

A scary thought from the BBC commentary team just there.  Assuming England make it through to next year’s Euros (come on, I can’t jinx things that badly!) they could face either of France or Italy, both of whom have won every game of their qualifying campaign.  Italy haven’t conceded a single goal.  Cripes.

Changes ahoy?

Nobody warming up yet, but with 20 minutes left and the game looking safe, Hope Powell might be thinking about changing things up and giving some of her bench a run out.  Croatia are ringing the changes, but that’s no surprise.  They’ve run themselves into the ground.  England with another chance through Alex Scott, went for the pass across the box.  Might have hit it herself.  Plenty of time for her to get on the scoresheet mind – the right back has been one of England’s most consistent attacking threats this afternoon.

What. A. Save. AGAIN!

Rachel Yankey’s drive, palmed away.  Alex Scott’s drive tipped over.  Seriously, this is some player.

What. A. Save.

Seriously, Doris Bacic, what a brilliant prospect this young lady is.  Rachel Yankey’s cross was curling and moving in the air and may well have been dropping in, but Bacic shifted her feet brilliantly and got fingertips out to claw it away.  Goalkeeping may have been a weaker position for women’s football in years past, but not any more.  This game’s stand-out performer by some distance.

Sophie Bradley

If the mark of a great defender is the ability to keep it sharp when you’ve not had anything to do during a game, Sophie Bradley is a great, great defender.  Croatia nicked the ball in midfield before running at the England box, but Bradley was quickly across to win the ball back before they could get a shot away.  Brilliant work (and the most exciting thing to happen in the last few minutes.  This game has gone to sleep a little bit.)

Tea Break

Bit of a lull in proceedings here, but it’s all England possession.  They’re not looking content with two and Rachel Yankey looks desperate to get a goal.  Aluko’s sticking more centrally this half, by the way.  If you ever need a tactics coach, Hope, do give me a call.

Oh and a chance!  But the Croatian ‘keeper was probably pushed by Houghton in the build up.  England are rampant.

Chance(s)!

Um…wow.  Stunning ball from Eni Aluko finds first Karen Carney, then Aluko herself, then Aluko again with Croatia and the goalframe somehow keeping the ball out of the Croatian net.  Corner comes to nothing, but England have another… and Anita Asante drills it wide.  She’s not a goalscorer, that one.

Chance!

After the strangest free kick routine you will ever see (3 players run over the ball, including Steph Houghton, before the left back ultimately hooks around again to strike the ball), Houghton clips the bar with a beautiful strike.  England look rampant here.

Goal – 2-0 England!

Curious one, this, but Aluko has pulled out a blinding finish off the outside of her right boot.  Off the post, deceiving the Croatian ‘keeper entirely.  Surely that’s game over.

And We’re Off

England shooting right to left in this second half.  45 minutes to keep themselves ahead and England immediately on the attack with Jill Scott.  Easy for Bacic though.

First Half Analysis

So, what to read into that first half then?  Probably not too much that was unexpected, England have dominated the half but haven’t really had the incision to justify anything more than a single goal lead.  Hope Powell might want to encourage Eni Aluko to stay a little more central, the forward has a tendency to drift wide to pull defenders out of position but with so much impetus down the wings from both fullbacks she might have more impact keeping a presence between the centre halves.

The atmosphere really is a shame though.  Hopefully this isn’t the beginning of a slide back into obscurity for the women’s game in this country.  Can’t help but feel a later kick off would have boosted the audience.

Hey, it’s Trevor Brooking!  We do love that guy.  He’s not pulling his punches on the performance here, mind.  Critical.  Good to see.

Half Time Entertainment

Oh, this is good.  BBC running a video piece on the new FA Women’s Super League.  Good to see Trevor Brooking having a say.  Best thing that’s happened to the women’s game in the UK in a very, very long time.

Half Time – England Women 1 – 0 Croatia Women

England have had the chances; England have had the possession; England have the lead.  Doris Bacic has been the star of the first half.  That’s the story, really.  I’m going to make a cup of tea, grab a quick breather and see if I can get this liveblogging tool to work properly.  See you in a few minutes.

ROW Z!

Steph Houghton has a great eye for goal – the Olympics showed us that – but she’ll not want to dwell on that effort.  25 yards out in the middle of the pitch and she gets right underneath it.  We’ll let you know when that one comes down.  Don’t wait up for it.

Almost Half Time

2 minutes + stoppage time left in the first half.  Can England open up some breathing space before half time?  On balance of play, it would be well deserved, but Croatia are not out of this at all.

Hearts in Mouth moment

From the corner, Karen Bardsley makes a decent stop at the near post, but fumbles it and Croatia should be level!  Great chance with the England defence at 6s and 7s, but in the end a weak shot just about trickles wide.

Croatia have a shot!

They may be playing it safe, but Croatia do look dangerous when they push players forward.  A deflection made it comfortable for Bardsley in the end, but the warning signs are there.  And now Croatia have a corner.  England not home and dry yet.

Chance!

Yup, it’s another England chance.  Decent headed chance from Rachel Yankey drifting just wide.  Croatia are getting 9 and 10 players behind the ball every time England come forwards.  I’d love to see a heat map of average positions so far.  I reckon Steph Houghton’s would be somewhere between the half way line and the penalty box.  Casey Stoney’s spend most of the game in the centre circle.

It’s No London 2012

We’ll probably pick up on this later, but the atmosphere is more than a little lacking this evening.  Whether it’s the early evening kick off (in line with UEFA standardised kick off time regulations), the fact that the game is live on the BBC (BBC2 btw – get watching if you aren’t already) or a worrying sign of interest in women’s football falling away after the heights enjoyed in the Olympic Games we’re not sure, but this isn’t the cauldron of noise we saw at Wembley back in July.

30 Minutes Played

England are still finding space all over the pitch and with Alex Scott and Steph Houghton almost functioning as auxiliary wingers, it’s possibly no surprise that Croatia are struggling to cope.  At only 1-0 and with so many players playing high up the pitch, the danger of conceding on the break does exist.  Mind you, England haven’t conceded since the opening game of the qualifying campaign, so a little confidence might just be forgiven.

Chance!

England come so, so close to making it 2-0 but it’s called offside in the end.  Stunning save from Bacic kept it out in any case.  England are just starting to settle in and the freekicks are coming fast and frequent now.

Goal – 1-0 England!
Jill Scott with the tap in after Eni Aluko’s shot. But oh, keeper…

10 Minutes In
Croatia are scrapping hard for every ball, but England still finding a lot of space, particularly when fullbacks Alex Scott and Steph Houghton push forwards. This could be a long day for the Croatian defence.

Chance!
Karen Carney with a rising drive from the edge of the area. It’s well clawed out by the Croatian ‘keeper, but England are turning the screw just minutes in.

Just seen it again – that is a world class save from Doris Bacic in the Croatia goal. The shot was curling in before 17 year old Bacic flung out a hand.

Early Skirmishes
Croatia sitting very deep, England pressing high up the pitch. There is danger on the break, but Croatia don’t really look like exploiting it. The Arsenal left qing of Houghton-Yankey looks like England’s early focal point, though Eni Aluko is the clear spearhead for England tonight.

Let’s go!
The FAWSL is tweeting all things England ladies with the hashtag #lionnesses if you’re interested in getting involved. We’ll be tweeting soon, too. Just…tech gremlin attacks. Sigh.

Anthems sung, teams out, let’s settle in for a (hopefull) comfortable 90 minutes.

Team News
Arsenal’s Rachel Yankey becomes England’s most capped player, overtaking former midfielder/defender Gill Coultard. This is her 120th cap since making her debut in 1997. I was 11 when she made her debut. 11!

10 Minutes to Kick off
Here’s the score. England undefeated, top of the group vs Croatia, without a win and beaten 6-0 in Croatia by Hope Powell’s ladies in March. Should be so simple.

When is it ever simple?

Preamble
First things first, an apology. Technical gremlins mean this is going to be a manual update affair until at least half time, when I’ll see if we can get the liveblogging tool up and running properly. Until then, bear with us if you can!

Niceties dispensed with, doesn’t this just feel so familiar? Crucial final qualifier, played at home against Croatia for a place in the European Championships, a win guaranteeting qualification. If your mind is spiralling back to 2007, at least be reassured on one front: it’s a beautiful evening for football, so there’ll be no ‘wally with a brolly’ tonight. No debut making ‘keepers either.

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