Time is fast running out for the 24 coaches heading to the World Cup this summer, a handful of friendlies over the end of May and start of June all that’s left for them to try one or two last adjustments before the tournament kicks off. The friendly matches that have taken place around the world over the last week were the last hurrah for peripheral players looking to make their mark before managers settle on their favoured 23.
All nine European World Cup competitors were in action twice over the last week with some surprising and some not so surprising results, but what have we learned from those games?
1. Trust in youth.
From 19-year-old Ellie Roebuck getting her first start for England [against Spain] to 20-year-old Erin Cuthbert firing in the opener against Chile through to teenager, Giulia Gwinn playing every minute for Germany, the kids are definitely alright.
There will always be teams that lean more heavily on youth and those on experience, although traditionally such sways are due to the size of the talent pool, the majority of bigger European teams seem to have struck a happy balance. In addition to Cuthbert; Valérie Gauvin (22), Vivianne Miedema (who is still somehow only 22), Delphine Cascarino (22), Nathalie Björn (21) and Aitana Bonmatí (21) all found the back of the net over the break. With players like Gwinn (19), Anna Anvegård (21), Lena Oberdorf (17) and Georgia Stanway (20) all featuring prominently, this summer is likely to be one when more than a handful of younger players make their mark.
2. Form is paramount.
If you’ve missed most of the season through injury (Maria Thorisdottir) or are shoehorned into a weaker position [and have missed most of the season through injury] (Maren Mjelde), or have been in poor form since coming back from injury/sickness (Almuth Schult), you’re probably going to make a mistake or two. And it will be costly.
Even though Schult gifted Japan two goals, it’s not all bad when looking at form. Arsenal duo Beth Mead and Daniëlle van de Donk are both in fine fettle right now, both having strong seasons for the Gunners and both shifted that form over to their national teams this week. Mead didn’t just score the opener for England but showed her industry in Swindon as van de Donk put four past Chile (including a 25-minute hat-trick).
Coaches are still likely to pick old favourites but those who reward in-form players (even if they are demoted to the bench) will always have more options than those who hope that Player Y can pull of the same heroics they did last World Cup.
3. Most coaches are still thinking about minutes.
Only Shelley Kerr (Scotland) and Martin Sjögren (Norway) refused to use more than three substitutions over their matches as most coaches favoured throwing entire benches onto the pitch throughout their friendlies. There is a strong argument for giving younger and peripheral players minutes, either for your own assessments - especially for someone like Martina Voss-Tecklenburg who is barely through the front door yet - or just to help them settle.
However, this close to a major tournament, it’s clear Kerr and to a less extent [judging by his line-up against New Zealand] Sjögren are thinking in terms of competitive matches and limited substitutions.
4. European teams are on course to have a good summer against South American teams.
We may have already known that CONMEBOL teams aren’t starting out on the steadiest of foundations but if Brazil and Chile’s April results are anything to go by, they’re not going to love this summer.
Having drawn 1-1 with Chile, Scotland (the lowest ranked UEFA team to have qualified for the WWC) dug out a 1-0 win in a cagey match against Brazil (ranked #10 to Scotland’s #20). Although all eyes will be on Brazil’s clash with Australia in Montpellier, their last group match in Valenciennes against Italy could see the applecart upset. Not always able to show their quality, the Netherlands 7-0 hammering of Chile might suggest that the Oranje have finally woken from their slumber, it may however, suggest that Chile are going to come away from France bruised and beaten.
With both Scotland and England facing the third and final South American team, Argentina in Group D, both will be keen to get as many goals on the board as possible with Japan their nation making up the quartet.
5. There is nothing better than winning, than winning whilst looking good doing it.
Adidas, you brilliant bastard.