Soccer  

England v United States: Sarina Wiegman’s side no longer fear the world champions

Alex Morgan
USA striker Alex Morgan will miss Friday’s friendly because of a knee injury
Venue: Wembley Date: Friday, 7 October Kick-off: 20:00 BST
Coverage: Listen on BBC Radio 5 Live, live text commentary on the BBC Sport website & app

When Alex Morgan taunted England fans with her tea drinking celebration at the 2019 World Cup, it signified a feeling of invincibility that ran through the United States’ team.

They went on to win the tournament for a second successive time after beating England 2-1 in the semi-finals.

It was a similar feeling of despair for England, who had come close but still could not beat the best team in the world.

Now, as the teams prepare to face off at Wembley for the first time on Friday in a friendly – England as European champions and the USA as world champions – it is not fear that the Lionesses feel but a sense of optimism that they might have finally closed the gap.

England have not faced the USA since 2020 but they are unbeaten in 22 matches under manager Sarina Wiegman and claimed their first major international trophy with victory at Euro 2022.

The USA are still ranked number one in the world but finished third at the 2020 Olympic Games and are starting to embark on a new era with the likes of Carli Lloyd retiring in 2021 and iconic duo Megan Rapinoe, 37, and Morgan, 33, edging towards the ends of their careers.

There was a time when asking whether the USA were the best team in the world led to the simple answer: “Yes”.

But Wiegman said she “did not know” when posed the same question this week and she could not hide her excitement at the prospect of England – and others in Europe – potentially proving otherwise.

“I know they are one of the best teams in the world, they are ranked number one. I think there are a couple of teams at the moment who are really good and are at a really high level,” she added.

“We saw in the Euros that the European game has improved so much that we’ve come closer and closer. We’d like to show that [on Friday] of course.”

The Dutchwoman has also suffered defeat at the hands of the USA when she guided the Netherlands to the World Cup final in 2019 before a penalty shootout was all that could separate the two teams at the Olympic Games in 2020, again going in the USA’s favour.

Wiegman’s quiet confidence has rubbed off on her players since arriving in England though, with forward Beth Mead joking before the USA game that drinking tea could be a celebration of hers if she scores.

“We were more coffee drinkers than tea drinkers anyway…” she said about the 2019 World Cup, before admitting it was a “tough result to take”.

She added: “We took it hard but looking at it now it’s made us more hungry to prove ourselves against a world-class American team. We’re looking forward to the challenge and testing ourselves.”

Ellen White and Becky Sauerbrunn
England’s last meeting with the USA ended in a 2-0 defeat at the SheBelieves Cup in 2020

Rapinoe has been at the heart of the USA’s success but even she feels there is “not really a huge gap” anymore between themselves and the rest of Europe.

“These teams are so good. We saw it in the World Cup, the Euros, the Champions League. The level of football right now is just insane. We’re happy to be right in the mix at the top,” she added.

The USA will look to defend their crown at next summer’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand and Friday’s friendly will give both teams a taste of what could come in that tournament.

Their last meeting at a major tournament – the 2019 World Cup semi-final – was watched by a record television audience on the BBC.

A sold-out crowd of around 90,000 is expected at Wembley on Friday and USA coach Vlatko Andonovski said he was excited for his players to feel the atmosphere which he witnessed at Euro 2022.

“It’s going to be a good show. This is not an important game but it’s a good game. It’s a game that will make a statement in women’s sport,” said Andonovski.

It will be England’s first test against the USA since their 2-0 defeat at the SheBelieves Cup in 2020 and though both teams are missing key players through injury – Lionesses captain Leah Williamson and US striker Morgan are both injured – it will be another contest between two of women’s football’s fiercest rivals.

And though it might be advertised as a friendly, Rapinoe said it “means more than that”.

“There’s a reason we’re at Wembley, that there’s 90,000 people coming and these two particular teams have stretched way past the field and done something special,” she added.

“I feel this is a really special moment in women’s football. This is one of those special career moments that don’t come around often.”

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