There were no celebrations this time as England suffered the unfamiliar feeling of defeat – but with a World Cup looming was this just an untimely defeat or time to be concerned?
The end to the Lionesses’ stunning 30-game unbeaten run felt heavy as Australia ran out as comfortable 2-0 winners on Tuesday.
“We’re obviously gutted,” said England striker Alessia Russo. “We don’t like losing. I wouldn’t say I would ever want to lose a football game to learn from it, but I think it is important to have these lessons.”
Having gone almost two years without tasting defeat – a run which included matches against seven of the world’s top 10 sides – it was World Cup co-hosts Australia, ranked 10th in the world, who finally found a way to outwit Lionesses head coach Sarina Wiegman.
And it is not just the result, but the manner of it, that will ring some alarm bells for the side who have won four trophies in the past 14 months.
Former England midfielder Karen Carney told ITV4: “Teams have a blueprint as to how to play against us now, how to stop us. But I think the only way we’re going to be beaten is by beating ourselves.
“Tactically we have to be better and I’m sure Sarina Wiegman will be looking at that. We have a lot of credit in the bank and I’m not overly concerned, but we don’t want that to happen in the World Cup.
“We have to move the ball quicker and be less complacent. You don’t get many chances in a World Cup.”
‘Lacking energy’ as weaknesses exposed
England faced a well-organised Australia side who had clearly done their homework.
The blueprint was clear – Australia frustrated England out of possession then hit them ruthlessly on the counter-attack, feeding superstar striker Sam Kerr at the earliest opportunity – and it worked perfectly.
Despite having 71% of possession, England were limited to four shots on target as their usually fluid attacking play lacked rhythm and impetus.
Wiegman described England as “lacking energy” and admitted they still need to improve when forced to break teams down, something that has become more common since their Euro 2022 success.
Chelsea manager Emma Hayes told ITV4: “This is uncharacteristic of England. Rarely do we see them looking so sluggish as a team. We’re used to them creating so many chances.”
Former England defender Gilly Flaherty added on BBC Radio 5 Sports Extra: “Teams are going to show England respect now. They are going to sit in blocks and are going to make it hard.
“England now need to find that next level, to know how to break down teams when they use this approach.”
‘England strengthened not derailed’
The defeat came five days after England’s victory in the Finalissima where an injury-hit Brazil gave them a real test in the second half and only lost out in a penalty shootout.
Individual errors were also on show in Brentford as captain Leah Williamson misjudged a long ball to aid Kerr’s opener.
It was the first time Wiegman’s side had trailed at half-time during her tenure and an expectant crowd of nearly 15,000 in Brentford anticipated a response befitting of the European champions. But it never quite came.
“England have got to learn how to react to adversity, how to come back from being one or two goals down. They will have difficult spells,” said Flaherty.
Yet Wiegman said she was “not worried” by the performance, while Carney added: “I actually don’t think it’s a bad thing.
“They’ll go away from this camp really hungry to get back for the next one. I’d rather it happen today than in the World Cup.”
Ex-striker Eni Aluko said this result “does not derail” England but will “strengthen them” in their preparation for this summer’s tournament.
“They will know you can’t go into a World Cup cruising. It should strengthen them. It should make them feel a bit human and humble them a bit,” she told ITV4.
Still depth despite lack of ‘super-subs’
There were mitigating circumstances for England. The Lionesses were missing key defenders Millie Bright and Alex Greenwood, whose reputation will only have grown in their absence.
Winger Lauren Hemp, who wore a face mask after suffering a heavy blow in the win over Brazil, had to come off after half an hour.
With Ballon d’Or runner-up Beth Mead and Chelsea midfielder Fran Kirby also out with long-term injuries, England’s options were sparse off the bench.
Forwards Lauren James and Rachel Daly came on but neither inspired a comeback – something “super-subs” Russo and Ella Toone – now regular starters – did so often at Euro 2022.
“Of course we want to create that. We still have depth in the team but now we have more players not available if you compare (to last summer),” said Wiegman.
“But we don’t want to compare as we’re moving on to the World Cup. We have to make those choices (on the starting XI) and, if we have to change, who can impact the game?
“We’re working on that so we’re looking at what it can bring us.”