England’s 30-game unbeaten run under Sarina Wiegman came to a humbling end as Sam Kerr helped Australia to victory in a friendly at Brentford’s Gtech Community Stadium.
The European champions were far from their best on a wet evening in west London and paid for it as Chelsea’s Kerr scored and assisted for the visitors either side of half-time.
With less than four months to go until Australia co-host the World Cup, England’s vulnerabilities were exposed and they were given the test they had wished for – although this time failed to pass it.
England’s last defeat was against Canada in April 2021 under interim boss Hege Riise but they were pushed to the wire in Thursday’s Finalissima with Brazil, needing a penalty shootout to win.
Kerr, returning to the Australia starting XI after being rested in their 1-0 defeat by Scotland last week, tormented England’s defence throughout and pounced on a mistake by captain Leah Williamson for the opener.
She later floated in a deep cross for Charlotte Grant, whose powerful header from a long way out bounced unkindly off Williamson and past goalkeeper Mary Earps to cap off a frustrating evening for the Arsenal defender.
Defeat is unfamiliar territory for the Lionesses and it is perhaps a good lesson to experience before the World Cup, but they have looked lacklustre in large spells this month and have things to improve on.
“It doesn’t feel great. A big learning game against a very physical and well-organised Australian side,” said Wiegman.
“We had a lot of possession and created some things but struggled to speed up the game and stretch them. We made some mistakes.
“Sometimes we lost it too quickly and it looks like it’s not energetic enough but we bring it back to football.”
England suffer from lack of options
It is important to give this result proper perspective. It was only the third time England had trailed under Wiegman and comes in a friendly after a run of 30 games without defeat, a run that has delivered four trophies.
England were going to lose eventually, although the manner of it will serve as wake-up call and a reminder that complacency will not go unpunished at the World Cup.
Lauren Hemp, wearing a face mask after suffering a nose injury against Brazil, started the game brightly for England, almost teeing up Alessia Russo before getting the better of Grant only for her cut-back to be blocked in the box.
But Hemp was clearly struggling with the injury and was subsequently substituted after half an hour.
Her departure impacted England, who now lacked the movement in behind and direct approach that had penned Australia back early on.
Kerr was then able to stretch England’s defence while Manchester City’s Hayley Raso was a pacey test for young club-mate Esme Morgan out wide.
Chances were few and far between for England in the first half and when Kerr set up Grant to double Australia’s lead in the 67th minute, injuries meant Wiegman lacked options to choose from on the bench in search of a way back into the game.
Aston Villa’s Rachel Daly was introduced and nearly made an impact, heading Lucy Bronze’s cross inches wide, while Georgia Stanway struck wide with minutes remaining – but Australia’s lead was never in doubt.
The Lionesses, used to standing ovations and celebratory scenes at full-time, were subdued as they applauded the fans in Brentford and will be keen to get back to winning ways come the World Cup in July.
Australia’s hopes carried by Kerr
Kerr’s impact on this game was clear. Not only did she contribute to both goals, she was physically too much for Williamson to handle and too smart for England’s backline to track.
Her form has already helped Chelsea reach a Champions League semi-final, an FA Cup semi-final and remain in the Women’s Super League title race this season – and she will carry the hopes of her nation at a home World Cup in July.
“One thing is her individual qualities as a footballer but even more valuable to this team is what she gives as a person and how she carries them – it’s amazing,” said Australia boss Tony Gustavsson.
“I also want to give credit to the players around her. If you have a team that backs up an individual like Sam [Kerr], she can shine.”
Despite injuries to key players including Arsenal duo Caitlin Foord and Steph Catley, Australia showed they had individual quality and an effective gameplan that could bring the best out of them.
Australia have not gone beyond the quarter-finals at a Women’s World Cup, but if Kerr remains fit then they have a chance this time.
“Of course it feels nice now and we will enjoy it but it’s just one step on the journey to the World Cup,” said Kerr.
“It’s obviously a really big performance from us with a lot of players out. But tonight doesn’t win us anything. To finish like this before we go home for the World Cup is really nice though.”
- 3CarterSubstituted forParkat 84′minutes
- 10TooneSubstituted forDalyat 60′minutes
- 11HempSubstituted forJamesat 28′minutes
- 12Le Tissier
- 18ArnoldBooked at 90mins
- 16RasoBooked at 89minsSubstituted forNevinat 90+4′minutes
- 13YallopSubstituted forVineat 40′minutesSubstituted forWheelerat 86′minutes
- 20KerrSubstituted forChidiacat 90+4′minutes
- Natalie Simon
Match ends, England 0, Australia 2.
Second Half ends, England 0, Australia 2.
Attempt saved. Georgia Stanway (England) right footed shot from outside the box is saved in the top centre of the goal.
Chloe Kelly (England) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Foul by Katrina Gorry (Australia).
Substitution, Australia. Courtney Nevin replaces Hayley Raso.
Substitution, Australia. Alex Chidiac replaces Sam Kerr.
Attempt missed. Georgia Stanway (England) right footed shot from the left side of the box is close, but misses to the left.
Delay over. They are ready to continue.
Delay in match because of an injury Sam Kerr (Australia).
Attempt missed. Chloe Kelly (England) right footed shot from outside the box is too high. Assisted by Leah Williamson.
Mackenzie Arnold (Australia) is shown the yellow card.
Attempt missed. Alessia Russo (England) right footed shot from the centre of the box is high and wide to the right. Assisted by Georgia Stanway with a cross following a corner.
Corner, England. Conceded by Katrina Gorry.
Hayley Raso (Australia) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Corner, England. Conceded by Clare Hunt.
Attempt blocked. Alessia Russo (England) left footed shot from the left side of the box is blocked. Assisted by Jessica Park.
Foul by Jessica Park (England).
Kyra Cooney-Cross (Australia) wins a free kick on the right wing.
Substitution, Australia. Clare Wheeler replaces Cortnee Vine because of an injury.