England take down Mexico behind second-half surge

Fran Kirby broke the deadlock with a second half goal, then Karen Carney added the necessary insurance that carried England to a 2-1 victory over Mexico in Moncton Saturday afternoon, further tightening the suddenly unpredictable Group F. 

With its first victory of this Women’s World Cup, England moved level on three points with France in second place, each of them a point behind leaders Colombia. England hold the second spot on goal-difference while Mexico remained on just one point in fourth place, but can still finish the group in the top three. That means everyone in the section remains in the chase for places in the knockout round.

Colombia’s stunning 2-0 win over France in the opener of the New Brunswick twin bill meant that both England and Mexico knew that a real chance at reaching the final 16 would be the reward for whoever could grab all three points. That meant that the match was often more tentative than either side would have liked before England threw off the shackles in the second half and began to assert themselves.

"The players had a lot of pressure on their shoulders, as they knew that a defeat would knock them out," England manager Mark Sampson said. "They were able to dictate the pace of the game, and were constantly looking to create chances. It was a very mature performance." 

Kirby, a 21-year old striker who only made her international debut in August 2014, pounced on a loose ball in the center of the penalty area to give England the vital first goal and the road to the three points. It was her third goal for her country and she was then denied a second in the 79th minute when Cecilia Santiago saved her swerving drive at the far post.

The veteran Carney, on as a substitute, then made the match just safe enough for England when she got inside her defender to meet an inswinging cross from Alex Greenwood to head past Santiago in the 82nd minute. For Carney, winning her 105th cap, it was a 24th international goal.

"The substitutes had an immediate impact, which is greatly satisfying. Depth of squad is one of the keys to a successful World Cup, and today’s match was proof of that," Sampson said.

Carney’s goal meant that when Fabiola Ibarra snapped up a stoppage-time rebound goal for Mexico, it was not enough to change the outcome or lift the Mexicans above fourth place. It was a first international goal for Ibarra and made the last seconds more nervous than they needed to be for England.

"My players gave everything they had but it wasn’t enough," Mexico coach Leonardo Cuellar said. It’s not all over yet, and I’m sure that they’ll fight tooth and nail ’til the end."

England started slowly, then came into things and controlled the final 25 minutes of the opening half, but they moved the ball far too slowly once they reached the final third. Then, when they did fashion some space, the shots attempted were weakly hit. Kirby and Jade Moore both should have gotten more behind their efforts while Eniola Aluko had power but not the necessary precision when she lobbed one off the far top corner of the crossbar in the 44th minute.

The English attacks continued to keep Mexico pinned back after the interval, but Aluko had no luck on the hour when she turned on a 16-yard chance, drove it hard off Santiago’s body only to see the rebound spin away from the post and out for a corner. Still, it was a sign that England were beginning to get on top of their CONCACAF foe.

Santiago later reacted well to catch a deflection off Steph Houghton that nearly found her a bit too far off her line while Mexico, in a rare second half bid, came close at the other end when Bardsley was fortunate to touch Ocampo’s 65th-minute corner kick off her crossbar.

When the breakthrough goal came it was down to Kirby’s charging forward between two defenders to stab the ball off the left post and home in the 71st minute. It was a reward for England’s forward push in the second half.

England complete group play against Colombia while Mexico and France will meet at the same time on Wednesday in the first round finale.

Quotes via FIFA.com