Women's Euro 2017: 5 big talking points from Portugal 1-2 England
England will go into their quarter-final with France on Sunday full of confidence after a third win from three games in Group D against Portugal – but Mark Sampson’s side were certainly made to work for their 2-1 win.
Strikes from Toni Duggan and Nikita Parris were enough to see England through with maximum points, but a goal in between from Portugal’s Carolina Mendes meant the win was not as straightforward as some might have expected.
Here’s five talking points from the Lionesses win...
1. 100% record for the first time
This was the first time at a major tournament that England have gone through the group stage undefeated – although they will be disappointed it wasn't with three clean sheets.
Since the Euros expanded and reverted to a first-round group stage in 1997 (the team didn't qualify that year), England have never progressed out of the group without a loss.
They suffered two defeats in 2001, 2005 and 2013; a draw and a defeat in 2009 meant they qualified from their group in third, before going on to reach the final. That run of never having gone undefeated also extends to the World Cup, with England dropping points in every competition they've qualified for.
That Sampson’s side were seeded always gave them a chance of coming through this group unscathed, but with three wins, 10 goals and only one conceded, the Welshman will be thrilled.
2. Ten changes too many
After going 54 games without sticking on a starting XI, Sampson finally name an unchanged side against Spain from the team that beat Scotland 6-0.
Following the win over Spain there was always likely to be changes – the Portugal game was England’s third in eight days – but 10 was probably more than most expected.
Sampson’s system mirrored the 4-2-3-1 he played against Scotland and Spain, but despite a positive start England were given more problems in the opening half-hour against Portugal than in their previous two matches.
Despite being able to call upon centurions Alex Scott, Karen Carney and record cap holder Fara Williams (who, incidentally, made her debut against Portugal 16 years ago), England were not as robust or organised as earlier in the tournament. Carolina Mendes scored 10 minutes after Duggan had struck for England, and Portugal found lots of space down the Lionesses’ left side.
On a positive note, however, Sampson has now used 21 of his 23-woman squad, and England were much better in the second half – especially after the introduction of the energetic Jordan Nobbs.
3. A good few weeks for Toni Duggan
It took Duggan just seven minutes to open the scoring here, marking her 50th cap in the best way possible.
After coming off the bench and netting the last of England’s six in the opening game against Scotland, Duggan pounced on a Portuguese error at the back to loop the ball over keeper Patricia Morais, who was caught off her line.
The goal on her landmark appearance tops a memorable few weeks for the Liverpool-born striker, who hit the headlines earlier this month by making a high-profile move to Barcelona – the first English player in the women’s game to do so.
Duggan isn’t a guaranteed starter for the France game, but she could hardly be going into it with more confidence.
4. Portugal the lowest-ranked side – but not the worst
Portugal came into this European Championship with a world ranking of 38, below the likes of Vietnam and Thailand.
But after a disappointing and limp performance against Spain in their opening game, Francisco Neto’s side showed quality against Scotland and character here against England.
This was their first major tournament, and they only qualified by coming through a two-legged play-off against Romania after finishing as one of the lowest-ranked second-placed teams in qualifying.
But in captain Claudia Neto, who plays her football in Sweden, plus the likes of goalscorer Mendes, Portugal showed glimpses of quality that bettered some of the teams ranked above them in this tournament – Norway and Iceland, for example, went home pointless.
The Portuguese will look to emulate the likes of Spain, who qualified for their first World Cup two years ago, as they look to build on their encouraging performance ahead of World Cup 2019 qualification.
5. England must improve to beat France
The Lionesses’ first objective was to win their group and make a statement. With three wins out of three, they certainly did that.
But in Sunday’s opponents France, Sampson and his side come up against a team they have never beaten in a competitive match, and have lost to in their last three major tournaments (2015, 2013, 2011).
The French, by their standards, have been poor in the Netherlands, and only managed to limp through to the last eight after a late free-kick by veteran Camille Abily against Switzerland. But they have a stranglehold over England that the Lionesses have been unable to get out of so far.
Portugal showed that on the counter-attack they could cause England a few problems, which was highlighted by their goal in the first half. But France will command much more possession, having enjoyed over 60% of the ball in their last game despite playing 70 minutes with 10 players.
England must be patient, much like they were against Spain, and will need to find that discipline and organisation they demonstrated in their first two matches to progress.