UEFA Women’s Euro 2017 Qualifying Group 7
Adams Park, High Wycombe
Match Rating: 4
With a very rare opportunity to watch a competitive game in June, I very much looked forward to supporting the national team’s efforts to reach the Euro 2017 finals next summer, as well as my first visit to Adams Park for over 15 years, for what will almost certainly be my last game of the season.
Adams Park is almost three miles from High Wycombe train station. Buses are laid on, although I decided to walk and take advantage of a view overlooking the stadium before the match. Set at the end of an industrial estate, there is actually much to look about this stadium, set in a valley resulting in scenic green rural views all around the ground. The main stand here is actually very small in comparison with the stand opposite. It is a single tiered, all-seater stand probably more at home in non league football, and is dwarfed by the two tier all-seater stand opposite, where I was seated today. Corporate boxes are sandwiched between the tiers. Behind one goal is a small covered terrace, which was not in use today save for having a TV broadcasting gantry positioned on it. Behind the other goal is the only new addition since my previous visit, now a larger all-seater stand usually allocated to away fans. The programme produced for today’s game was surprisingly good value, 52 pages in colour packed with more than enough interesting reading material and all the necessary stats
After England’s superb, brave effort in reaching the World Cup semi-final last year, they have found qualifying for next summer's Euro 2017 finals rather laborious, chiefly due to a chronic lack of goals. They are still favourites to claim the one automatic qualification spot from the group, as they went into this match in second place, four points behind leaders Belgium but with two games in hand and would win the group if they win their remaining four games in the group. So far, they have won three and drawn the other (at home to Belgium) of their four games so far. But apart from putting eight past pointless Estonia, they only scored one goal in their other three games, a drought that has led to England manager Mark Sampson shaking up his forward line, dropping the two star strikers, Eniola Aluko and Toni Duggan, from his squad for this match. Serbia are still in with a chance of claiming a top two berth, particularly if they could get the better of England in the double header against them today and in Serbia next week. They were in third place, with two wins and a draw from their four games, three points behind in England and seven points behind Belgium, but with two games in hand. It would be a tough ask for Serbia according to FIFA's World Rankings, with England ranked fourth best team in the world, with Serbia 45th.
On an overcast but warm afternoon, England would completely dominate this game from start to finish, with virtually all of the play throughout in Serbia’s half. Serbia just couldn’t deal with an England team who impressed with their impressive, inventive passing game, playing at a high tempo for most of the match. After hitting the post and seeing a free kick well saved, England took the lead on 15 minutes when the ball was threaded into the path of the onrunning Alex Greenwood and although her first touch seemed to make the angle for a shot on goal very tight, she still managed to shoot low across the keeper and just inside the far post. England came close to extending their lead several times before they did on 34 minutes. They were awarded a penalty for a shove on Ellen White as she was running away from goal along the by-line, and Karen Carney despatched the spot kick into the bottom left corner. The result was put beyond all doubt three minutes before half time. A Serbia defender could only weakly clear the ball from the six yard line, falling at the feet of White, and she passed to debutant Rachel Daly, who stroked the ball home.
The second half started in the same vein, and after coming close a couple more times, England scored their fourth on 51 minutes. An initial shot on the volley was blocked by a defender, but she couldn’t clear the ball and White managed to win the ball before firing into the net. Just a minute later and Isobel Christiansen made it five. The ball dropped to Carney at the edge of the area and her shot on goal took a deflection into the path of Christiansen, who struck the ball home first time. After seeing a header cleared off the line, England made it six on the hour mark, Carney bundling the ball in from a corner, and Carney completed her hat-trick on 64 minutes with another rather fortunate goal, a defender miscuing her clearance from a corner allowing Carney to volley the ball into the net from close range. At that stage, double figures looked on the cards, but England took their foot off the gas for the remaining 25 minutes, much to Serbia's relief, although England did have a shot blocked deep into added on time.
So a clinical performance by England today, and one could sense they wanted to put on a commanding, dominant performance, but credit to Serbia for continuing to battle fairly without letting frustration result in dirty play - they were simply massively outclassed today. Unfortunately for them, the two teams meet again in Serbia on Tuesday. It looks certain that the automatic qualification spot will come down to the last group game in Belgium, with probably England just needing to avoid defeat to claim it.
March highlights can be viewed by clicking here