England was denied a second straight Under-20 World Cup victory by a 92nd-minute equalizer from Brazil’s Ariadina Borges.
Georgia Stanway’s 11th-minute penalty had put England ahead but in a game in which Mo Marley’s side struggled to create chances, it was their defensive work and off-the-ball positioning which brought them closest to pulling off the win.
The performance wasn’t as perfect as Sunday’s win against Korea DPR and neither defense, midfield, or attack clicked as well against a team which suffocated position and rarely let England get into their flow on the ball.
Marley made one change, replacing Lauren Hemp with Birmingham City’s Charlie Wellings but the move didn’t have the desired effect.
Not that England’s lack of linkup in attack was down to the personnel change, England simply just couldn’t get the ball as much against a team happier in possession than out of it.
Wellings lasted 53 minutes before being replaced by Hemp but England couldn’t secure the win when Stanway should have scored her second as she broke clear one-on-one with Kemelli with less than 10 minutes to play.
England’s only goal came from the spot kick when Tainara was adjudged to have pulled back Chloe Peplow just minutes after defender Anna Patten also went down in the box from a corner.
The referee had seen enough in the opening 10 minutes to see fit to stamp down on Brazil’s tactics and Peplow herself says England was happy to make the officials aware of what was going on.
“She had her arm around me so I let the ref know about that. We made the ref aware of the first one on Anna [Patten] too, we’ve been told to do that and it paid off today.”
Peplow was one of England’s outstanding performers on the day but neither she or Mollie Rouse were as comfortable against a tricky Brazil midfield as they were against Korea DPR.
Attacking midfielder Victoria regularly found space between the midfield and defense but England’s low block restricted Dorival’s side to long-range efforts, a move Stanway says was calculated.
“We put on a deeper block, we defended very well but unfortunately we just didn’t hold on,” she said.
Regarding England’s lack of chances, Stanway added: “That’s just football. Some days you have more of the ball, some you don’t. In tournament football you have to be able to conserve energy and last across a certain amount of games and that’s kind of what we did today.”
England very much banked into a 4-5-1 out of possession with Alessia Russo and Chloe Kelly once again doing good jobs of doubling up with Patten and Maz Pacheco, while Stanway herself often dropped into a midfield three alongside Peplow and Rouse.
The issue once again came on the ball, too many passes far beyond the forwards which made it impossible for Wellings to have any meaningful impact in attack.
Composure on the ball and the perfect final pass has been a trait lacking traditionally from many England teams down the years, male or female, and something that will come with age but needs working on against Mexico.
Brazil took an hour or so to work out constant efforts from range weren’t going to bother Sandy MacIver, who put in a solid performance, and therefore targeted Patten down the right-hand side with the pace and trickery of Geyse, to a certain amount of success.
After Geyse’s departure, the influential Kerolin had a go at Patten but England’s defense stood firm, center back Megan Finnigan, in particular, the outstanding performer on the day.
The Everton defender has formed a real partnership with captain Grace Fisk, reads the game incredibly well, got her body in front of several shots, and headed away every cross which came near her.
Marley will also be pleased with the performance of Sunday’s hero Alessia Russo. The University of North Carolina forward was starved of goal-scoring chances against Brazil but her close control and ability to run past players with the ball got England out of trouble on the counterattack.
Unfortunately, England’s resilience was broken in the final minutes when Ariadina’s shot from the edge of the box flew into the corner and out of reach of MacIver.
Marley and her players have talked no end in the lead up to the tournament about the progress in work ethic, togetherness. and team spirit since the disappointing U-19 Euros last summer, and Peplow believes that will now become more evident than ever against Mexico on Sunday.
“We played Brazil in Florida so we knew what they were capable of and they played well today. We’d done well to defend them and keep them out but at the end of the day we’ve come away with a draw and we have to take that.”
Peplow added: “That fire will always be there, even more now knowing we’ll need the win. Qualification is still in our hands and there’s a bit of extra fire going into it but we’ll look forward to it.”
Korea DPR’s victory over Mexico leaves England knowing a draw will be enough to see them through while a win would also guarantee the top spot in the group.
Lose and they’ll be relying on a favorable result in the group’s other match on Sunday afternoon.