England are through to the knock-out stages of the Women’s World Cup with a 2-1 win over Colombia in Montreal.
A Karen Carney rebound and a Fara Williams spot-kick proved enough for the victory, as the Three Lionesses secured second spot in Group F.
Although it was not the thoroughly dominant display many had hoped for, those in white produced what is described as a ‘professional performance’. In short, they got the job done.
After their triumph over Mexico on Saturday night, Mark Sampson’s side knew three more points would absolutely guarantee qualification and they sought to achieve it with another attacking line-up.
The England boss made five changes to the starting XIwhich defeated the Mexicans, with Jill Scott and Lucy Bronze – who suffered a slight knock in that encounter – having to be content with places on the bench. Fellow Blue trio Karen Bardsley, Steph Houghton and Toni Duggan all started.
Colombia - who also needed a win to secure progression - started brightly and created the first real chance of the evening, as Lady Andrade displayed some impressive skill to weave away from her markers before setting up Daniela Montoya who blazed over.
It didn’t take long for the Lionesses to find their stride though. A well-worked corner routine ended with Casey Stoney heading over the bar – but the deadlock would be broken a matter of minutes later.
Before the game, Sampson had warned his side of Colombia’s physical threat. That became evident early on and it was from a free-kick in which England took the lead.
Houghton – City’s free-kick specialist – was involved, firing an effort towards the bottom corner from 30 yards. Goalkeeper Sandra Sepulveda did well to get down to it but she could only parry into the path of Carney, who drilled home first-time.
Barely 60 seconds later, England could have been awarded a penalty for handball against Carolina Arias as Fran Kirby burst forward – but nothing was given.
Just over ten minutes later though, Sampson’s side were presented with the chance to double their advantage from 12 yards. Although this offence was less obvious than her first, Arias was guilty of handling in the box once again and Williams was more than happy to step up and tuck the penalty away to give England a commanding lead.
There was still more to come in the opening 45 though, as Bardsley – with little to do for much of the night – was called into action.
Some find build-up play by Colombia sent Nataly Arias clear but the City and England number one was alert, closing down the attack and making herself big to produce a fine stop at a crucial time, preserving her side’s clean sheet going into half-time.
After the break, England were happy to sit back and defend their lead and in all honesty, Colombia did little to trouble them in the early exchanges.
Yoreli Rincon came close just after the hour-mark, unleashing a shot which flew just wide of the target, while England had chances to extend their advantage at the other end.
Alex Scott skewed over the bar and Duggan’s effort was straight at the goalkeeper. Substitutes Jodie Taylor and Lianne Sanderson were also thwarted by Sepulveda one way or another.
Just as it looked as though two goals would be enough, England conceded late on – just as they did against Mexico – as the dangerous Andrade lobbed the ball into the back of the net to set up another nervy finish.
Thankfully, it was once again too little, too late and England hung on to keep their World Cup dream well and truly alive.
As a result, the Lionesses will travel to Ottawa on Monday 22 June to face Norway in the last 16. Kick-off is at 10pm BST.
England: Bardsley, A Scott, Houghton (c), Stoney, Greenwood, Nobbs, Williams, Moore, Carney (Sanderson, 56), Duggan (Taylor, 81), Kirby (Potter, 66).