Jodie Taylor breaks scoring drought to lead England to knockout stage
England advanced into the knockout stage of the Women's World Cup thanks to a 1-0 victory Friday over Argentina, with Jodie Taylor's second-half goal enough to secure the points.
It was mostly attack against defense in Le Havre, France. England dominated possession and territory, but Argentina was resolute, well-structured and hard to break down. Goalkeeper Vanina Correa put in a remarkable performance to save a first-half penalty from England's Nikita Parris and stood firm to other clear chances until Taylor broke the deadlock in the 61st minute.
England was at times frustrated against Argentina and on occasion lost focus, but it was a case of job done. And the players even got a smile from manager Phil Neville.
Here are five takeaways from England's win over Argentina:
England are still building but this was a step forward.
England's performance against Scotland was a case of Jekyll and Hyde -- a fantastic first half was diluted by an average second 45. But against Argentina, although they struggled to break down the opposition's defense, England did enough and played well.
There were plenty of positives for England. Taylor scored her first international goal in more than a year, breaking a 363-minute drought, while Fran Kirby was fantastic and Beth Mead was as well down the left. Parris missed that first-half penalty, but her distribution was on point while Jill Scott was everywhere.
One concern for Neville will be the number of chances they squandered, in part due to the brilliance of Correa. Mead had an effort well-saved after she opted to shoot across goal, while Scott headed over in the second half and Taylor let two chances slide before her winner. England (2-0) faces Japan (1-1) -- which beat Scotland 2-1 on Friday -- next, on Wednesday in Nice.
Argentina will one day be a world force, if the program is backed.
Considering Argentina was without a world ranking three years ago, and that it has played two games and conceded just one against the likes of Japan and England, is some effort. Back in Argentina, schoolchildren were given time off to watch both matches -- just as they're permitted when the men's team plays in World Cups -- and these performances will, one hopes, inspire the next generation, because what the women are achieving in France is remarkable.
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After Argentina failed to qualify for Canada in 2015, the national team program lost its central funding and was cast into the wilderness. It regrouped, the players were paid a miniscule amount for expenses, had to sleep on the bus for an away game and eventually went on strike. But fast forward two years and in France they have mixed it with the best and left their mark on England and Japan. Neville said Argentina's situation was like England's 20 or so years ago, but don't expect the Argentina women to take that long to get their first World Cup victories and be a force in the knockout stages.
"We have to be conscious of where England are and where Argentina are. We weren't going to go out on the attack against England, we had to defend our area," Argentina manager Carlos Borrello said. "Experience does teach us certain things and we have to focus on the physical side of things. England were stronger than us."
Fran Kirby was back to her brilliant best.
After a sensational 2017-18 season, Kirby's most recent campaign was interrupted by injury, and she has recently been searching for the top form we know she is capable of. Against Scotland in England's opener, she was moved from an advanced role to a deeper role and then back again until she was eventually substituted. It was as if Neville was trying to work out exactly where she would be most effective. But he got his tactics bang on with Kirby for Argentina and she was England's most effective player.
Get Kirby the ball and she makes things happen; she's someone who never goes for the easy option but instead tries the game-changing, high-risk pass. She was a constant danger heading forward and caused Argentina all sorts of trouble.
Kirby is world-class, and though she is still waiting for her first goal in this World Cup, her performance suggested that goal will come sooner rather than later.
At full time, Kirby was visibly emotional as thoughts turned to her late mother, Denise.
"We were aware that it was Fran's mum's birthday, and how much she misses her," Neville said. "We're a family, Carly Telford also lost her mum last year. I thought Fran was outstanding tonight. Today's been an emotional day. Fran's a special person, who misses her mum and so, too, does Carly Telford. We share their emotion, their happiness and sadness."
Correa puts in a performance to remember.
Prior to this World Cup, Correa had been to two others: 2003 and 2007. In 2007, the Argentine goalkeeper conceded 11 goals against Germany. Now age 35, Correa had to be persuaded to rejoin the squad for this World Cup, but she was magnificent against England.
She kept out Parris' penalty and made two additional world-class saves: first from Mead as Correa stretched out her leg to keep the cross shot at bay, and then the reaction snap save to Parris' drilled shot early in the second half. It was a magnificent performance and a definitive riposte to those who criticize the standard of goalkeeping in women's football.
Said Neville: "What we saw was a world-class performance. The standard of goalkeeping has risen incredibly and not enough credit goes to the coaches coaching them or the goalkeepers themselves."
Telford gets her chance at the fourth time of asking.
Telford is playing in her fourth major tournament with England, having been previously to two World Cups and a European Championship. For so long the goalkeeper has been patient, waiting for her chance in between the sticks, having not started any matches in those tournaments. Finally, that chance came in Le Havre.
According to those who know her well, she is the perfect teammate -- she is selfless and constantly gives her all for the sake of the team. She didn't have much to do against Argentina -- making two comfortable but effective saves and punching one ball clear -- but she will remember Friday as her first World Cup appearance -- and it was just reward for someone who has given so much to the sport.