England qualified for the last-16 of the Women’s World Cup with a hard-fought 1-0 win over Argentina in Le Havre, despite a heroic performance from Albiceleste goalkeeper Vanina Correa.
Jodie Taylor‘s close-range finish ensured the Lionesses’ progress through Group D and they will play 2015 runners-up Japan for top spot in Nice on Wednesday.
Taylor, who started ahead of Ellen White, finished a superb counter-attack on the hour to finally break Argentina’s resolve, after Correa had saved Nikita Parris’ first-half penalty and made a string of fine saves.
Argentina were aiming for another famous result following the 0-0 draw with Japan on Monday, and they will a maintain hope of reaching the knockouts with a first-ever World Cup win against already-eliminated Scotland.
England coach Phil Neville had promised “one or two” changes from the 2-1 win over the Scots but, characteristically, he made four, with Carly Telford, Abbie McManus, Jade Moore and Taylor all coming into the XI.
Goalkeeper Telford, a veteran of two European Championships and World Cup 2015, was playing for the first time at a major tournament and the 31-year-old dealt with Argentina’s limited threat, which largely came from set-pieces.
As expected, most of the action was at the other end, with England dominating possession in the early stages but lacking finesse in the final third.
Just as in the 2-1 win over Scotland, a potential breakthrough came via a penalty, when left-back Alex Greenwood burst towards the byline and was tripped by Ruth Bravo on 27 minutes.
Nikita Parris finished emphatically from 12 yards last week but referee Qin Liang kept the Lyon winger waiting and her eventual effort was brilliantly saved by Correa, who dived to her left and palmed the ball onto the post with one hand.
England looked shaken and Argentina tried to take advantage with a physical approach, best exemplified when Aldana Cometti bodychecked Lucy Bronze as the right-back sped forward.
The Lionesses should still have taken a lead into half-time however, when an Argentine mistake left Beth Mead one-on-one with Correa, only for the goalkeeper to save her low effort with an outstretched leg.
Neville resisted making changes, despite a strong bench including White, at half-time and England did not become frustrated after the break, even when Correa produced another brilliant stop to deny Parris. From Greenwood’s half-cleared free-kick, Parris unleashed a stinging volley through a crowd of players which Correa palmed away.
Parris, who was excellent despite the penalty miss, soon turned provider, darting forward down the right and hanging up a fine cross for Taylor, which the striker could only head straight at Correa from close range.
A 20,294-strong crowd – an improvement on the 13,188 who watched England-Scotland in Nice – must have been beginning to wonder if it was not to be Lionnesses’ night before the best move of the game produced a deserved winner.
With Argentina cautiously probing in attacking, England turnover possession and Mead whipped Kirby’s perfectly-weighted pass across the face of goal, out of reach of Correa and two defenders, where Taylor gratefully tapped home.
To their credit, Argentina did not allow their heads to drop and they continued to battle against a more relaxed England, who twice went close through Jill Scott headers. The towering veteran had threatened all night in the air and her second effort, from Greenwood’s cross, skimmed the crossbar.
England will go to Nice knowing qualification for the knockouts is secure and with revenge on their minds, after Japan beat them in the semi-final four years ago.
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