A city rebuilt in reinforced concrete after its flattening in the Second World War had always seemed to be an appropriate place to deliver defensive might, though after a monumental effort England finally broke down the wall to guarantee their progress to the World Cup’s knock-out stage on Friday night.
For the second time in this tournament, theirs was not a convincing performance but the win will more than do after an hour of Argentinian resistance. A 60-yard move of pinpoint accuracy was the decisive one. It was finished off by forward Jodie Taylor but delivered by the left foot of Beth Mead, who showed more evidence that she could be a defining player if England can venture deep into this tournament.
A draw against Japan in Nice on Wednesday would deliver them the far easier road to a Lyons semi-final, with one of the group stage’s third round sides, possibly New Zealand, in the round of 16 and conceivably Norway or Australia after that. It all looks manageable if Neville’s players can begin to find a rhythm.
Jodie Taylor’s outstretched leg sent England to victory as the Lionesses made it back-to-back wins at the World Cup
The 33-year-old forward had worked herself into space in the area and as the ball came across she had an open goal to aim at
Taylor’s goal sparked wild celebrations between her and her team-mates after Argentina proved difficult to break down
Even when the goal was scored, England boss Phil Neville urged his players to push on for more as he refused to relax at 1-0
Victory puts the Lionesses top of Group D after two World Cup matches and ensures they progress to the round of 16
The Argentine defender Adriana Sachs had hinted that there was needle, where this particular old foe is concerned, but England had not anticipated quite such a level of physical challenge. It was bordering on assault at times in the first half.
Lucy Bronze – put into the air by Miriam Mayorga as they went for one challenge and shoved towards the touchline by Aldana Cometti in the only offence which earned a booking – bore the most obvious blows. But there was a malicious kind of malice, too. Ruth Bravo placed studs into Jill Scott’s boots as she waited to compete for a clearance.
‘We were expecting it,’ Neville said afterwards. ‘To be fair, got to admire that South American trait, win at all costs and upset the opposition, try anything to win and I admire that.’
England were unsettled, thrown out their rhythm, struggling to get into the final third and find any kind of accuracy from crosses. Fran Kirby, the player they most look to for delivery in the tight pockets of space, operated deep in central midfield. Neville exhorts his players to be brave and break the tactical lines with forward passes but despite England’s first half domination – 152 passes to the South Americans’ 27 – they too often went square.
Nikita Parris was handed a golden chance to give England a first-half lead after Neville’s side were awarded a penalty
But Parris’s side-footed effort to the right was read by Argentina goalkeeper Vanina Correa and she saved the spot-kick
There was delight from her team-mates after her moment of brilliance ensured the South American side stayed in the game
Parris let out a cry of sheer frustration on a night the Lionesses were continually frustrated in attack in Le Havre
Neville was animated on the touchline and continued throughout to issue words of advice and encouragement to his players
England: Telford 7, Bronze 6, Houghton 7, McManus 6, Greenwood 7, Mead 8 (Stanway 81), Moore 6, Scott 6, Kirby 7, Taylor 7, Parris 6 (Daly 87).
Subs not used: Bardsley, Walsh, Bright, Stokes, Williamson, White, Carney, Staniforth, Duggan, Earps.
Goals: Taylor (61)
Argentina: Correa 9, Sachs 7, Barroso 6, Cometti 5, Stabile 5, Bravo 5, Mayorga 6, Benitez 6 (Santana 77), Banini 7 (Larroquette 68), Bonsegundo 6, Jaimes 7 (Oviedo 90).
Subs not used: Garton, Gomez, Potassa, Coronel, Chavez, Ippolito, Juncos, Menendez, Pereyra.
Booked: Cometti, Barroso
Referee: Qin Liang 5 (China)
The game-plan seemed to have identified the Argentinian right as the flank to exploit, with Mead’s natural pace destabilising for Sachs, though this rendered Nikita Parris, the player most likely to deliver the unexpected component, an marginal presence in the first period.
The lock seemed to have been picked three minutes before the half hour, when the first half’s outstanding move brought the penalty.
Steph Houghton was the protagonist, with a 30-yard pass on the diagonal, deftly controlled and navigated by Mead into the path of the Alex Greenwood who was felled by Bravo as she took the ball into the area.
The Chinese official made Parris’ wait to take the penalty an interminable one, as she fussed over encroachments into the area. But the Liverpudlian’s kick was marginally too close to goalkeeper Vanina Correa who leapt to her left to repel it.
‘I don’t get the delay,’ Neville reflected.
‘Two minutes of delay. It’s something have to get used to – and be aware not to put the ball down as quickly. We have to think of strategy to overcome that.’
It was one of several top class saves from Correa, leaving Neville to insist that ‘Goalkeeping in the women’s game with the coaches they’ve got has risen incredibly.’
The goalkeeper was mobbed by her team-mates and repeated the heroics when Mead was sent through on goal after Kirby intercepted a poor defensive clearance and shipped the ball into her path.
The Arsenal forward’s shot was not clinical enough and Correa was able to stab out a left foot to block.
England and Arsenal ace Beth Mead (right) was given little room to create meaningful opportunities as she was marked well
England dominated the contest in wide areas and were left calling for a foul when Alex Greenwood was felled by Ruth Bravo
It proved a physical Group D tie with both sides pushing for a top-two finish as Jade Moore (left) tackled Miriam Mayorga
Argentina goalkeeper Correa put in a superb display as she produced a string of fine saves in a bid to to keep her clean sheet
For the second game here, England lacked a creative fulcrum with the versatile Scott, winning the midfield battles one minute and advancing to join the attack the next, the most effective presence.
Neville’s half-time work seemed to have involved exhortations to get Parris into the match and Kirby into the pockets. Parris did find more possession after the interval as England renewed their efforts to break things down, striking a ball through a forest of players after Kirby, suddenly in the thick of the creative effort, laid a ball into her path. Correa, unsighted when the shot went in, saved again.
The understanding between Kirby and Taylor, whose start instead of Ellen White was one of four changes Neville made, was not always there.
When Kirby skipped past three Argentines to deliver into danger, Taylor had drifted away. The forward had also drifted offside when Parris crossed for her. But the move from deep which brought the goal did deliver precision – Jade Moore and Kirby shipping the ball right to left for Mead, whose first time cross was one of technical excellence.
For their own part, the Argentinians could offer no threat. Their No 10, captain and fulcrum Estefania Banini departed early, unable to provide a threat.
The night did not fulfil the ‘Dare to Dream’ legend which dominates the pitch perimeters. France and the United States will still not fear England. But it was progression.
Frustration looked to be creeping in before the ball came across from the left and was met by Taylor on the stretch (right)
The goal was scored in front of the travelling England supporters and Taylor’s composed finish sparked wild celebrations
Neville tried to keep his emotions in check throughout but gave a double fist-pump to his players as they saw the result out