England 2 Denmark 0
Dry pitch, hard training sessions – and camping. In the range of reasons for an under-par performance the latter was an unusual one but then England have adopted unusual methods in their preparations for the forthcoming World Cup.
Head coach Phil Neville gained another victory in the penultimate warm-up game before France, but admitted the unconvincing display was a “jolt” to a squad with aspirations of winning the tournament in France.
But then Neville had taken his players on a team-building exercise last week, spending a day and night with the Royal Marines at St George’s Park, and said after this sluggish encounter: “We trained them hard and had the bonding day where they only got one or two hours’ sleep. So I expected a little bit of fatigue.”
He got it. England were far from their best and also far from their strongest, it could be argued, without Lucy Bronze and Toni Duggan, who played in last weekend’s Champions League final, and with captain Steph Houghton among those rested.
In their absence, Nikita Parris, who will join Bronze at European champions Lyon next season, seized the opportunity. The 25-year-old forward claimed the opening goal to cap a remarkable few days in which she was also named the women’s footballer of the year and secured her dream move.
“The kid’s had such a big 10 days in her life,” Neville said. “You’re talking about a girl from Toxteth who is now going to France and moving away from home. We have to make sure we manage her well. The World Cup is the biggest thing in her life. She’s dreamed about it all her life and wants to make a big impact. She’s the type of girl who can go there and become a world star.”
No pressure then. However, Neville admitted his players felt the pressure, the looming expectation of the World Cup, what that entails, the growing interest and believed they were factors as well as the unwatered pitch, tiredness – and that night under canvas.
In truth, pre-tournament warm-up games are hard to gauge, as Neville knows from his own playing days, and his most telling comment probably came when he admitted that he used this as something of a “training exercise” and had even urged the referee to blow the final whistle instead of allotting four minutes of injury time.
The biggest lesson was in coming up against a world-class player such as Denmark’s Pernille Harder and, largely, England coped well with the dangerous forward who finished second behind Lyon’s Ada Hegerberg in the inaugural Ballon D’Or vote but will not be at the World Cup because her nation failed to qualify.
Still, Denmark are 17th in the Fifa rankings and should have gone ahead before England scored when Signe Bruun used her shoulder to control an awkward cross before finishing from close-range past goalkeeper Karen Bardsley. To her anger it was ruled out by for handball.
Soon after, England capitalised. On half-time a free-kick was won, after stand-in captain Jill Scott was pulled back, and Beth Mead swung it in with the headed clearance dropping to Parris who controlled it with her thigh and shot low inside the post.
Before that, Ellen White had shot wide, when through on goal, Scott had lifted the ball over from close-range and Parris had guided another effort just past the post. But it was far from convincing. Indeed Denmark dominated early in the second half until England scored a superb breakaway goal, started and finished by Scott.
The midfielder headed the ball to Georgia Stanway who ran from deep before finding Mead out wide. The cross was teed up and Scott arrived to head powerfully into the net.
England now have three days off before facing New Zealand next Saturday and then heading to France. “They need that,” Neville said of the break. They also probably needed this wake-up call – but also some sleep.
England (4-1-4-1): Bardsley; Daly, Williams, Bright, Stokes; Moore; Parris (Carney 61), Scott, Stanway (Kirby 61), Mead (Staniforth 80); White.
Subs: Bronze, Greenwood, Walsh, Houghton, Taylor, McManus, Earps.
Denmark (4-4-1-1): Abel; Sevecke, Ballisager, Arnth, Svava; Sorensen (Thogersen 75), Troelsgaard (Tavlo 75), Junge, Snerle (Gejl 41); Harder; Bruun (Madsen 64).
Subs: Christiansen, Holmgaard, Larsen, Karlsen, Hashemi.
Referee: Desire Grundbacher (Switzerland).
Full time: England 2 Denmark 0
Was this pretty? Will Phil Neville be delighted? Nope.
But World Cup warm-ups shouldn't be a victorious send-off parade, they should be tests, and Denmark certainly provided that. But Nikita Parris's goal in first-half injury time seemed to knock the stuffing out of the visitors, before Jill Scott finished off the most decisive attack of the game to make the game safe.
England will take on New Zealand in Brighton next Saturday, where Neville will surely want a more cohesive performance. Can't fault their resilience, though, and that'll come in very handy in France.
90+1 min - England 2 Denmark 0
There will be four added minutes.
88 min - England 2 Denmark 0
No further changes for Neville, by the looks of it, so we could presume he's trying to replicate tournament conditions. You'd expect the pitches to be a bit better in France next month, though...
84 min - England 2 Denmark 0
England pounce on a poor clearance from Abel, but Staniforth's first contribution is a low drive that skids through and well, well wide.
81 min - England 2 Denmark 0
Harder, who is now being well marshalled by the England defence, gets a yard of space in the area to meet a deep cross with an ambitious header that Bardsley gathers with ease.
79 min - England 2 Denmark 0
England sub: Lucy Staniforth on, Beth Mead is replaced.
76 min - England 2 Denmark 0
Carney has shown her class since joining the action, and it's just taken three Danish defenders to stop her dribbling in from the left. A third England goal looks more likely than Denmark halving the deficit.
71 min - England 2 Denmark 0
Both sides trade blows at either end, before Beth Mead skips in behind and rifles the ball across the six yard box, but Abel gets down well to claim it.
67 min - England 2 Denmark 0
Sorensen receives the ball on the edge of the box and is about to let fly, but Demi Stokes bundles her over. The free kick is right of centre, 18 yards out, and Harder takes....but it curls *just* wide!
63 min - England 2 Denmark 0
Kirby nearly pounces on the ball after an almighty mix-up in the Danish defence from a cross by White, but the visitors eventually sort their mess out.
61 min - England 2 Denmark 0
Stanway and Parris go off, as Carney and Kirby are introduced.
GOAL! England 2 (Scott, 59 min) Denmark
Here comes the cavalry: Phil Neville summons Karen Carney and Fran Kirby from the bench. Meanwhile, though, Stanway drives at the Denmark defence again, feeds Beth Mead out on the left, and her inviting right-foot cross is powered home by the head of captain Jill Scott!
57 min - England 1 Denmark 0
Another Denmark set-piece causes havoc in the England defence and Daly is forced to shin a volleyed clearance out for a corner. Parris deals with that at the near post, but here comes another: Bardsley is fouled as she punches the ball away under her own crossbar.
54 min - England 1 Denmark 0
Chance! Denmark applying the pressure, and the ball is teed up for Sorensen to shoot from 15 yards, but it's way over the bar. England have started the second half very sloppily.
51 min - England 1 Denmark 0
England counter again, and Parris drives in from the right only to go down under a Danish challenge...but the referee waves play on. Up the other end, Harder loses her marker to meet a cross and force Bardsley into a close-range save!
47 min - England 1 Denmark 0
Chance! Ellen White plays in Beth Mead, but again the pass is overhit and Denmark close down the angle to stifle what had been a promising opening.
We go again...
Phil Neville - who was fuming with England's first-half performance - has sent out the same XI to start the second half.
Half time: England 1 Denmark 0
A just-about-deserved lead at half-time for an England side who took their time to get into this game, but weathered the early Danish storm to start imposing themselves in the final third. Parris had looked lively on the right, but then popped up in the middle to produce the most authoritative moment of the half.
Denmark are confident ball-players, but look fragile in the middle. Not sure what the message will be from Neville in the dressing room, but he might make a couple of changes.
GOAL! England 1 (Parris, 45+1 min) Denmark 0
England lead just before the break! Beth Mead's free kick from the right isn't a great one, but the ball bounces back to Nikita Parris to fire into the bottom corner! That's a finish alright.
42 min - England 0 Denmark 0
GOAL! Or not! In comes a Danish cross from the right and Signe Bruun - all alone, seven yards out - leans in to bundle the ball past Bardsley, but the referee says she handballed it first! Replays suggest it was more of a shoulder...
41 min - England 0 Denmark 0
The latest act of mild violence sees Daly sends Emma Snerle tumbling over the dusty touchline and she's damaged her hip and will come off. Mille Gejl replaces her.
39 min - England 0 Denmark 0
Chance! Moore is caught on the ball in midfield, Denmark advance and Bardsley has to get down well to save Nicoline Sorensen's 15-yard shot!
37 min - England 0 Denmark 0
Another knock for an England player as Rachel Daly is accidentally booted up into the air by teammate Jade Moore! She's up and about soon enough, though.
35 min - England 0 Denmark 0
Chance! Demi Stokes meets a loose ball on the edge of the box, but volleys just wide.
32 min - England 0 Denmark 0
Beth Mead is fouled out on the right, and takes the free kick herself, but Denmark stand firm. Ellen White then hares after the ball as the Danes pass it around in their area, and earns a throw-in.
28 min - England 0 Denmark 0
An injury concern for England. Jade Moore has gone down clutching her ankle, with nobody within yards of her, but looks like she'll be carrying on.
25 min - England 0 Denmark 0
Chance! A lovely curling cross from the left by Stanway is met at the far post by Jill Scott, but she can only spoon the ball over the bar as it takes a hard bounce off the bone-dry six-yard box!
24 min - England 0 Denmark 0
Denmark move the ball around very neatly, but England are finding the better penetration at the moment, often with just one or two passes.
21 min - England 0 Denmark 0
Another lightning England counter-attack, led by Stanway again, boasts several options left and right, but Stanway chooses to go it alone...but her fierce drive is deflected wide.
18 min - England 0 Denmark 0
Chance! England launch upfield in an instant, Scott weights her through-ball to Ellen White perfectly, the goalkeeper advances...but she clips the ball just wide of the far post!
17 min - England 0 Denmark 0
Denmark float another corner into the box, where a clutch of red shirts are waiting to attack it, but centre-half Rikke Sevecke powers her header well, well wide.
14 min - England 0 Denmark 0
England's turn to threaten from a set piece, and the ball finds its way all the way through to Millie Bright, who clips an awkward half-volley well over the bar. They're settling into this game now, though.
11 min - England 0 Denmark 0
Georgia Stanway bursts through the Danish midfield and looks to slide a pass through for Parris...but it bobbles through for a goal kick. Moments later, Denmark sweep up the other end, the ball is cut back for Troelsgaard to shoot again! This time it's deflected wide.
8 min - England 0 Denmark 0
Denmark keep the pressure up with a couple of corners, and they surround Bardsley with red shirts in the six-yard box. In the ball comes and Signe Bruun heads wide! England's captain Jill Scott responds with a bouncing 20-yarder that doesn't trouble Danish keeper Katrine Abel
5 min - England 0 Denmark 0
Denmark's stand-out star - and captain - Pernille Harder rises to meet a corner from the right, but her tame header bounces wide of the England goal. Moments later, the hosts launch their first meaningful attack, but Nikita Parris's cross is overhit.
2 min - England 0 Denmark 0
Some early possession for the Danes ends with a 25-yarder from Sanne Troelsgaard which curls away from the far post as Karen Bardsley watches it safely out for a goal kick.
The hosts, all in bespoke white, get us going. The surface at the Bank's Stadium looks a little worn.
Players are out...
..and we're almost ready to go in sunny Walsall.
Going to war
England's World Cup preparations at St George's Park this week included a visit from the Royal Marines...
At the FA's base in Burton, Neville’s Lionesses spent Wednesday completing military-style training drills and listening to the stories of injured amputees. The players were asked to send one final text before surrendering their phones ahead of a gruelling day of team-building tests and challenges that were still ongoing at 6am the following day. They were not given proper tents but had to work in pairs to build their own shelter and boil packet food from over campfires. In previous years the FA has invited the same group of marines to work with its women’s youth teams.
“We did loads of team building drills,” said Arsenal forward Beth Mead. “In one, we had to rescue soldiers, get them onto stretchers and carry them back to an area. Then we had to memorize different objects and were tested on them when we woke up at six this morning. We were in four different groups and had to remember them as a team. We did it, so the marines had to do a forfeit.
“We had to make our own food up, warm it all up over a fire in packets and rip it apart, then we all slept in tents about an inch away from each other. We were sat round a campfire, singing together with the team - it was probably the most together we’ve been with England.
“There were men there who had had their legs blown off, amputees. It was inspiring for us. We think we are courageous when we are on a football pitch and we have people like that - it’s part of his life, with half their body missing.
“It gives us a reality check. When we moan that we have a niggle, or our foot is hurting as I have a bruise, it put things in perspective. I think it has been good for us.
“When we woke up this morning, everyone’s hair was all over the place and we have army paint on from the night before. Everyone says it feels like we’ve been on a good night out.”
Neville: Players will 'police themselves' on social media
It's one of the more modern World Cup headaches for a manager - a new entry alongside the location of their training camp and someone's metatarsal - but Phil Neville has addressed the issue of his squad's social media activity during the tournament. In summary: go for it.
The head coach of the Lionesses has said he will allow his players to “police themselves” online during the campaign, which they kick off against Scotland in Nice on June 9.
There has been an increasing tendency for male footballers to abstain from social media during major tournaments. Harry Kane quit Twitter and stopped checking news apps during the World Cup last year after revealing that comments had affected him at Euro 2016.
But ahead of his side’s penultimate warm-up fixture for the World Cup against Denmark at Walsall’s Bescot Stadium on Saturday, Neville said limiting his players on social platforms would only hinder the growth of the female game.
He said: “I don’t think we’re at that stage yet in women’s football where we can take our girls off social media. I think everything has to be positive. We have to get our visibility out there. It’s part of their personalities and we don’t want to stifle their personalities of a player if being on social media is part of their character.
“My players are fantastic at it. Far better than what I was, or some of the players who I played with were.
“They post things creatively and they enjoy it. Why stifle someone’s personality and character? They police themselves and if they post anything that doesn’t fit within the values, then they will be told.”
Here's the England lineup:
1 HOUR TILL WE GO. Your team for today’s game.... �� pic.twitter.com/CQg94PDtzd— Lionesses (@Lionesses) May 25, 2019
Up front, Lyon-bound Nikita Parris will be partnered by the towering, 80-cap Ellen White. who has just signed for Manchester City...to replace Nikita Parris.
And here's how Denmark look:
Abel, Snerle, Arnth, Sevecke, Troelsgaarde, Harder, Junge, Sorensen, Ballisager, Bruune, Svava.
England'spre-World Cup Warm-Up Roadshow - which has already taken in Manchester and Swindon - hits the Bank's Stadium in Walsall.
After defeat against Canada and a win over Spain, two more sharpeners await before Phil Neville's squad travel to France - the first of which is a visit from Denmark, Euro 2017 finalists but habitual World Cup non-qualifiers.
England, now the third-ranked team in the world and similarly fancied by the bookies to challenge this summer, now have serious strength in depth. One of their seemingly endless number of attacking stars, Fran Kirby, said this week that - in order to close the pay gap with their male counterparts - England will have to go all the way in France...
“Ultimately, we need to grow the women’s game,” Kirby said. “That’s the biggest issue - it always has been. Then you can talk about equal pay and everything else.
“Ultimately we are doing the same job as the men, but I understand that we’re not filling out stadiums. That makes it difficult to have that argument. As the women’s game improves and progresses, then they’re the conversations we can start to have.
“The USA are in dispute at the moment but they’re selling out arenas, they’ve won the World Cup and have some of the best players in the world in their team. They’re in a position to do that.
Team news will follow in a moment...