In the first ever Arnold Clark Cup, we saw England host Canada, Germany and Spain in a round-robin friendly tournament just before the 2022 UEFA European Women’s Football Championship begin this summer.
The tournament didn’t produce a multitude of goals until the final game but it was one of the more entertaining international tournaments I’ve seen in a long time. It was billed as a friendly and sure, the managers for each team tried different tactics out and rotated players, but overall, each manager wanted to win so it made for a thrilling spectacle no matter who was playing.
Here are some of my favourite moments from the tournament.
Athenea rises to the occasion
After initially being left out of the Spain squad for this tournament, Jorge Vilda was forced to call up Athenea del Castillo after Mariona Caldentey picked up an injury. When she came on for Spain against England, I was left wondering why he never picked her in the first place.
She terrorised every defender she came up against and provided a spark for Spain that had been missing in their previous game against Germany. At 21 years-old, the Real Madrid winger has bags full of potential and showcased her talent whenever she stepped on to the pitch. Her performances earned her the MVP award at the tournament and will have drawn much more attention to her now. Vilda will have to take her to Euro 2022 as she showed that her pace, movement and trickery are something that Spain will need if they want to win their first major international trophy.
Goalkeepers stepping up
As the third goalkeeper in rotation for Spain, Gallardo was given the start against Canada in the final game of the tournament. She was tested throughout as Canada did create opportunities but her most important save came in the first half, with the scoreline still at 0-0.
Canada managed to create some space for Jordyn Huitema to get her head on free kick and on initial watch, it looked like it hit the crossbar and bounced away from the advancing Kadeisha Buchanan. However, replays showed that had Gallardo not gotten a touch to that header, Canada would have taken the lead. Instead, she kept her team in it until they found a goal at the other end and continued to place herself in the right spots to help Spain keep that lead until the final whistle.
The other save that made me sit up in my seat was that from Marle Frohms. As Spain looked to add to their lead, Putellas combined with García and the Spain forward looked to bend the ball into the top corner. Once again, on initial watch, I thought that it had found it’s way past the goalkeeper and onto the post but replays showed that Frohms managed to get the tip of her hand to it, and thus played it off the post and away from goal.
The standard of goalkeeping continues to rise in women’s football and with even so-called backup goalkeepers producing saves of this quality, we can assume that with the right training and analysis, goalkeepers are getting better and better. So much scrutiny remains about the women’s game because of the standard of goalkeeping but this tournament showed that any still using that stereotype to denigrate women’s football actually doesn’t pay attention to the sport. There’s top class goalkeeping everywhere and both Frohms and Gallardo showed that over the last week or so.
Beckie and Magull score the best goals of the tournament
The best goals of the tournament came from Janine Beckie and Lina Magull. Beckie’s was a wonder strike from just outside the penalty area while Magull’s came from a direct free kick. Both goals were unstoppable and worthy of rewatching over and over again.
After England had taken the lead, Canada pushed forward in the second half to find the equaliser. Some quick combinations around England’s penalty area led to Janine Beckie getting the ball on her right foot. She then cut back to her left and produced this:
Janine Beckie. Top left corner— Attacking Third (@AttackingThird) February 17, 2022
Canada levels with England in the 54th minute. pic.twitter.com/7zT25nbU1i
An absolutely stunning strike that Mary Earps could do nothing to prevent. With her left foot being her weak foot, this strike from Beckie makes even more outrageous because of the accuracy, height and curl she gets on it using her weaker foot. That goal put Canada back in the game and reminded those in England why Beckie is so highly regarded by Canada.
The other stunner of the tournament came from Lina Magull. After England had taken the lead, Germany needed an equaliser to not only stay in the game but potentially spoil England’s push to win the Arnold Clark Cup. With other players around her, Magull took it upon herself to take the free kick and gave Ellie Roebuck no chance.
Lina Magull— Attacking Third (@AttackingThird) February 23, 2022
A stunning set-piece goal for Germany. pic.twitter.com/tWEWXkeGdZ
There’s something special about a goal that kicks back off the post and in, no matter who scores it. It shows just how much of a technician that player is and how well they can strike a ball. Germany, and Magull herself, may not have been at the peak of their prowess throughout this tournament but that goal shows just how much talent they have and why they will be a team to watch at the European Championship.
Millie Bright, “England’s No. 9”
Yes, you read that right. Millie Bright, Chelsea and England center back was the top goal scorer in the tournament (tied with Alexia Putellas on two). Her first goal of the tournament was the usual fair you’d come to see from a center back. During a set piece, the ball rebounded to her feet and she managed to volley it home to help England to a draw against Canada.
The second however, was the pick of the lot. With the clock winding down in the final game of the tournament, England were level with Germany which meant that Spain would be the first ever winners of the Arnold Clark Cup. Sarina Wiegman then pulled off a master stroke. She substituted out her two full backs and pushed Bright into a No. 9 role. Anyone watching at that point would’ve been scratching their head at what exactly Wiegman was doing but in hindsight, it was a courageous move that led to England winning the game.
MILLIE BRIGHT— Attacking Third (@AttackingThird) February 23, 2022
Pushes England ahead in the 84th minute. This could be the game winner. pic.twitter.com/xuObcFhb9G
Lauren Hemp went on a slaloming run in the 84th minute, saw her shot blocked and fell right into Bright’s path. She made no mistake from about six yards out and justified her manager’s move to put her up top. Fran Kirby went on to score a third for England, making sure of the win but seeing Bright play as a striker was joyously fun and capped off a thrilling tournament.
Can we do this again next year?