KATHRYN BATTE: Ella Toone deserves Sarina Wiegman’s loyalty… she always turns up when England need her most – PLUS why it is RIDICULOUS to suggest Scotland will let Lionesses win
- Sarina Wiegman has faced calls to drop Ella Toone but has always stayed loyal
- The England forward scored the winner against the Netherlands on Friday
- Manchester United have snakes in their dressing room, players who are not running. Bruce, Robson, Keane would never allow this – It’s All Kicking Off
The press box at Wembley is on the other side of the stadium to where England scored their winning goal against the Netherlands on Friday. So, when the ball hit the back of the net in the 91st minute, it took me a couple of seconds to work out who had put it there. Ella Toone, of course. Who else?
The Manchester United attacker has proven herself to be a player for the big occasion.
Her 18 goals in an England shirt include strikes in the quarter-final and final of the Euros, the Finalissma and the semi-final of the World Cup. Her winner against the Netherlands, her third goal for England at Wembley, kept alive the Lionesses’ hopes of achieving Olympic qualification for Team GB.
Only Beth Mead (29) has more goals than Toone in the current England squad. But it has not been an easy few months for the forward. There have been question marks over her form and Toone would be the first to admit there have been games, for club and country, where she has not been at her best.
The forward is perhaps a victim of her own success. Her performances from the bench at the Euros set such a high bar that expectations rose. It is easy to forget Toone was only 22 at that tournament and is only 24 now.
England forward Ella Toone showed she was the player for the big occasion on Friday night
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Her role for England went from supersub at the Euros to regular starter in the run-up to the World Cup. Toone started the first two games at that tournament but lost her place to Lauren James, who scored two goals in a player-of-the-match performance against China.
When Toone walked through the mixed zone after that match, she looked like a player who had lost some confidence. But after James was sent off in the last 16 against Nigeria, Toone stepped up once again, scoring a crucial goal in the semi-final against Australia.
Toone’s form for United has been up and down since the summer, not helped in part by regular tweaks to her position and a change in personnel.
She had developed a strong partnership with Alessia Russo, whose departure to Arsenal has meant Toone is having to try to form new relationships with United’s summer signings — Geyse of Brazil and Melvine Malard of France — neither of whom speak fluent English.
It has been challenging but Toone’s resilience and ability to bounce back from setbacks is why she has achieved so much at such a young age.
Sarina Wiegman has faced calls to drop Toone but has always stayed loyal. That tells you all you need to know. Wiegman trusts her and clearly believes Toone can be relied upon to produce big moments when her country need them most.
Toone will always say she hates being given time off, but she would admit she could have done with more rest in the last year and a half — as could most of her England team-mates.
England boss Sarina Wiegman has faced calls to drop Toone but has always stayed loyal
There have been times in recent months when it has looked as if Toone is trying too hard — last month’s Manchester derby at Old Trafford was a prime example — but that is because she cares so much. Her passion, for club and country, is what makes her so likeable and relatable to fans.
In interviews she does not hide behind recycled PR lines or cliches. Her post-match remark after the Euros final — ‘I’m buzzing my head off’ — summed up why she is so popular.
Toone’s goal against the Netherlands — popping up in space to get on the end of a cross — is what she does best and her importance to England should not be underestimated.
Wiegman knows how to get the best out of Toone and will continue to stay loyal to her. The forward has already repaid that trust and will keep doing so.
No need for Champions League changes
UEFA have announced the creation of a new competition for women’s clubs who do not qualify for the Champions League. Great. They have also announced the Champions League will follow the men’s competition by switching from a group stage to an 18-team league format.
Not so great. We are only in the third season of the group stages and they have been going well — so why the change? The league format means an addition of two extra teams. Expansion is welcome but a complete change of system is not. It would surely have been more wise to judge how the changes affect the men’s competition first, before committing the women’s game to the same structure.
At a time when it is vital to keep the women’s game entertaining, removing the group stage takes away much of the drama and excitement.
Scotland will let Lionesses win? Don’t be ridiculous
For Team GB to have any chance of qualifying for the Olympics, England must top their Nations League group. To do this, they must beat Scotland this evening, preferably by a lot of goals.
England and the Netherlands are level on nine points but the Dutch are three goals better off. The problem here, of course, is that Scotland could potentially benefit from England topping the group.
Scotland will do everything in their power to stop England in their Nations League clash
It is doubtful how many Scotland players would force their way into an 18-player squad if Team GB did make the Olympics, but somebody such as Erin Cuthbert would have a strong chance of being picked. It should never have come to this. It is staggering that UEFA allowed England and Scotland to be drawn in the same group and this is their worst-case scenario.
So, the narrative has already begun — Scotland could ‘throw’ the game to help Team GB qualify. Goalkeeper Sandy MacIver switching from England to Scotland just a few months ago only adds fuel to the fire. This idea is, of course, nonsense.
Half of my family are Scottish. Let me be clear, they care more about beating England than anything else. But the rest of Europe may not see it that way.
Given Scotland’s threadbare squad, there is every chance England win by some distance. But Scotland will do everything in their power to stop that happening and it is disrespectful to suggest otherwise.
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