A trio of Chelsea Women represented England on Wednesday night as Phil Neville’s side beat Brazil 2-1 to make a winning start to their World Cup year.
Karen Carney, Fran Kirby and Carly Telford all started for England in the SheBelieves Cup, who for once went into a meeting with the Samba Stars as the favourites, but proved they were more comfortable coming back from behind.
Kirby, playing in a deeper-lying role than for her club, helped the Lionesses pull back level early in the second half, with a perfectly weighted pass to former Chelsea youngster Ellen White who did the rest.
Brazil had taken a deserved lead through an Andressa Alves penalty in the 16th minute after Marta dispossessed Steph Houghton in a dangerous position and Lucy Bronze’s tackle was adjudged late.
England took time to adapt to the tempo of the Latin Americans, who were trying to hit them high up the pitch and exploit their attacking flair, although Carney was a typically calming presence on the left flank.
Our captain created England’s best chance of the first half when she spotted Kirby and Nikita Parris sprinting forward at the far post, but the Manchester City striker couldn’t manage to keep her header down.
In the second half, Telford (pictured celebrating below), with another chance to cement her claim for the No.1 shirt at the World Cup, showed her ability to come off her line as the Lionesses tried to wrestle back the initiative. Meanwhile, Neville looked to Kirby to unlock the defence, running through the middle and slipping passes into the channels.
In the end, it was Arsenal’s Beth Mead who made the difference, catching the goalkeeper completely off guard with 15 minutes left. She looked lined up for the cross but in the end supplied a fantastic finish.
The victory ensured England maintain their remarkable 100 per cent record against Brazil, whom they beat in the first-ever friendly between the teams in October, with Kirby scoring the only goal on that occasion.
The Lionesses come out again on Saturday night for a meeting with reigning world champions the United States in front of a potentially fervent crowd in Nashville, which gets underway at 9.30pm UK time, before they travel to Tampa to play Japan, a team they will also encounter on the third matchday at the World Cup.
Two other friendly tournaments also kicked off on Wednesday with five Chelsea Women involved.
In the opening round of the Algarve Cup, Hedvig Lindahl and Magdalena Eriksson featured throughout as Sweden won 4-1 against Switzerland. Ramona Bachmann was involved for the Swiss, facing some of her former Rosengard team-mates, while Jonna Andersson was an unused substitute for the Swedes.
There was more Nordic success on the Portuguese coast when Norway beat Denmark 2-1 at the death. Maren Mjelde was the architect of the comeback, coming on an hour into the match with her team trailing, and creating the equaliser with a well-worked free-kick routine before they wangled a winner in stoppage time.
Erin Cuthbert and the Scotland squad have to wait until Friday for their first outing against Canada.
Meanwhile at the Cyprus Cup, Adelina Engman laid what looked like it would be the decisive blow in Finland’s clash with South Africa. Our newest forward curled in a fine strike to restore the lead for her side with 13 minutes remaining, in her last action before being substituted, but the Banyana made it 2-2 soon afterwards.
There is no time for the players to pause with only one rest day before the next group games.
By Danny Wittenberg