St James' Park, football ground in Newcastle.

Following the Lionesses’ double-header against France, which was marked by a whirlwind of contrasting emotions, Beyond The 90’s Finley Chung reflects on what this international break has revealed about our National Team.

A win at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard in Saint-Étienne has reignited England’s hopes of automatically qualifying for the 2025 edition of the Euros. However, the journey has not been without its challenges.

Following Friday night’s 2-1 defeat to Les Bleues at St James’ Park, many questions were raised amongst England supporters, particularly regarding manager Sarina Wiegman’s in-game management.

The criticism was amplified when the Dutch coach opted to start the same XI for the return fixture four days later, aside from the injury-enforced withdrawal of Mary Earps, with Hannah Hampton taking her place in goal.

The Instrumental Alessia Russo

The performance in France was marked by some top class displays all over the pitch.

Georgia Stanway ran the show in the middle of the park, alongside Lauren Hemp’s mesmerising wing play, but it was Alessia Russo’s overall performance which stole the show, and the hearts, of the watching England faithful.

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Having been one of the players criticised on Friday, with fans clamouring (and understandably so) for Chelsea’s Aggie Beever-Jones to start, Russo lined up in France a woman with a point to prove.

Arsenal fans this season have seen first hand just how good she is, with 22 goals and four assists in her opening campaign as a Gunner.

Two Arsenal fans, Jamie Spangher, Editor in Chief of The Halfway Line and Beth McCowen, Contributor to The Halfway Line weighed in with their thoughts about Russo’s first season in N5.

Jamie Spangher:

”Alessia Russo’s inaugural season with the Gunners seemed to be transitional, with the Arsenal number 23 having her strengths tested across the nine and ten position.


Though as her introduction became cemented, Russo brought an intelligent flare to the Gunners front line, as she continues to develop into a threatening in-the-box striker as her career progresses.”

Beth McCowen:

“Alessia Russo came to Arsenal as an already applauded player. Her presence upfront is outstanding and a lot has been asked of her during her time with the Gunners.


Russo’s main strength, in my opinion, is that she does so much more than just score goals. However, her ability to successfully drop back down the field at times became a problem as Arsenal struggled to find the back of the net. Towards the end of the season, though, the balance started to be found and Russo’s form began to shine.


It’s exciting for Arsenal fans to look ahead to the next season, especially given her recent form on the international stage.”

For the Lionesses, she had more of an ‘impact’ role to play in the historic Euros win, coming off the bench and scoring memorable goals against Northern Ireland, whilst also contributing ‘that’ back heel in the semi final win over Sweden.

Since Ellen White’s retirement post 2021, she has been thrust into the limelight of the England Number nine, which carries a burden unlike anything in club football.

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In the 2023 World Cup, she scored three times on England’s route to the runners up spot, including a memorable first time finish against Australia in the semi-finals.

On Tuesday night in France, Russo showcased again just how good her goalscoring ability is, getting her head on the end of Lauren Hemp’s pinpoint cross to glance her header home and score what turned out to be the winner.

On the night, Russo showcased her ability to the fullest outside of her scoring exploits, particularly when running down the clock.

With the time ticking towards the 90th minute, she was often the only Lioness left forward.

In one particular sequence, Georgia Stanway intercepted a French corner and found Russo who was the only England shirt forward; she ran the ball up the field 40/50 yards and won a throw in off of Elisa de Almeida, showcasing her excellent hold up play.

She had a massive part to play in the first goal too, being hit as the focal point again, fending off three defenders before sliding the ball into the path of Lauren Hemp, who tee’d up Georgia Stanway’s rocket.

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Beyond the 90‘s very own Jenny Chen said,

I am optimistic about Russo’s second season in North London. I think it’s expected for her to be the team’s top scorer, but I think she has done well despite the criticisms that she has received. 


She has also received a lot of common praise from opposition fans, which means she must be doing something right.”

Another member of our Beyond the 90 community, Abbie Murphy  added her take on Russo’s involvement at England.

“Her ability to drop deep can sometimes be infuriating, but her hold-up play and her seamless ability to find the wingers allows her to create an opening for herself to shoot.


Wiegman’s lack of number nine’s within the team has bared a problem, especially since the retirement of Ellen White, but the flexibility of other forwards has allowed Sarina to utilise Russo to get the best out of her performance.


Russo’s partnership with Lauren Hemp means she is able to roam around the pitch and intercept where needed, whether that be running down the channels or pressing back to help the defensive line. Her qualities are endless, and we expect to see Russo grow into a role similar to that of Ellen White.”

Hannah Hampton fills Earps’ gloves

The number one jersey for England is now a huge area of debate, partly thanks to the stunning form of Mary Earps’ two competitors, and also the injury the Manchester United stopper sustained against France.

Hannah Hampton came on at St James’ Park and also started between the sticks in France, and she certainly rose to the challenge.

She remained assured between the posts, always looking to play her way out the back too, aligning with Sarina’s way of thinking and philosphy.

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While France found the net from the penalty spot, Hampton’s true worth to England shone through in the 89th minute.

As France surged forward in search of an equaliser, a swift turnover left England vulnerable. Marie Antoinette Katoto unleashed a fierce effort towards goal, but Hampton’s lightning reflexes and agility were on full display.

Despite initially moving in the opposite direction, Hampton swiftly adjusted her body, diving low to her left to palm the ball wide—a save that defied the odds and encapsulated her quality.

This standout moment epitomised Hampton’s talent—a talent recognised by Emma Hayes, who brought her to the WSL Champions, Chelsea. With three world-class goalkeepers vying for the number one spot, England finds itself in the enviable position of having ample depth in the crucial goalkeeping department.

The worrying lack of changes:

A prominent critique of Sarina Wiegman’s managerial approach, especially in recent times, revolves around her reluctance to make changes—be it in the starting lineup or tactical adjustments during games.

This squad boasted hefty amounts of talent, Jess Park, Grace Clinton, Jess Naz and Aggie Beever-Jones to name but a few. But Wiegman opted for consistency during the latest qualifiers.

These players, who have showcased stellar performances throughout their respective seasons, were left on the sidelines, raising questions about squad rotation and tactical adaptability.

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In the home game of the double header, Wiegman refrained from making changes until the 79th minute when Chloe Kelly and Fran Kirby were introduced.

The midfield wasn’t refreshed that game and wasn’t refreshed in France either, with Ella Toone, Georgia Stanway and Keira Walsh all playing both games.

As has been with England in the past, when Keira Walsh is marked out of a game, the Lionesses often struggle to take real control of any game. Against France, Walsh struggled to exert her influence, marked closely by a formidable midfield trio of Selma Bacha, Kenza Dali and Sandie Toletti.

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Her performance improved in the return leg, but she was by far fully freed from the French shackles, and the need for tactical variation remains evident. While it’s acknowledged that the likes of Clinton or Park may not necessarily provide immediate solutions, the reluctance to experiment poses a barrier to England’s quest for dominance on the field.

With England now level with Sweden on goal difference and a mere two points behind France, the upcoming fixtures against the Republic of Ireland and Sweden present an opportune moment for Wiegman to inject fresh perspectives into the squad.

The final fixtures of the qualifying group stage will resume in July, and England fans are eagerly anticipating these crucial encounters. But for now, the call for tactical flexibility only grows louder.

Featured image courtesy of Viencl09 via Wikimedia Commons. No changes were made to this image. License details found here