England might be the reigning European champions and they might’ve reached this year’s Women’s World Cup final – but on Friday at Wembley, the Lionesses must beat the Netherlands to save their Women’s Nations League campaign and stand any chance of securing Great Britain a place at the Olympic women’s football tournament in France next summer.
After two years of incredible success under Sarina Wiegman, things have been tricky for England in recent months. This team has only lost four of the 43 matches for which the Dutchwoman has been in charge, but three of those have come in the Lionesses’ last five outings.
Having lost the World Cup final to Spain in Sydney, Wiegman's side succumbed to Renate Jansen's late winner in the Netherlands in September and in October, four days after beating Belgium 1-0 in Leicester, they were defeated 3-2 by the Red Flames in the return fixture. It was a shock, especially considering they beat the same opponent 6-1 earlier this year.
But it wasn’t a surprise to see England struggling for rhythm and for a really convincing performance, as those have been lacking in recent times. Even at the World Cup, despite the Lionesses reaching the final, there were concerns and signs of weakness, the cracks perhaps papered over by the team continuing to get the job done and progress to the next round.
As the final international break of 2023 begins, England know that they need to beat the Netherlands by at least two goals in order to keep their chances of making the Nations League finals alive. That is key in order for the Lionesses to try and secure a spot at the Olympics next summer for Team GB’s women’s football team.
What, then, has gone wrong to leave the reigning European champions and World Cup finalists in a situation like this?