WITH less than 12 months until the World Cup, England Women sent out a message to the rest of the world with a 4-0 friendly win over Sweden at Victoria Park.
England, ranked eighth in the world, dominated their opponents, who are ranked three places above them, from start to finish and their performance will bode well going into the World Cup qualifier against Wales later this month.
Mark Sampson’s side need just a point from their remaining two qualifiers to secure their place at next summer’s tournament in Canada after an unbeaten campaign so far.
Sampson started four North-East-born players in Steph Houghton, Demi Stokes, Jordan Nobbs and Lucy Bronze, while Jill Scott came on in the second half.
England could have taken the lead as early as the first minute when a mistake from Nila Fischer gifted an opportunity to Fran Kirby, but she could only direct her shot over the bar.
Buoyed by their encouraging start, Sampson’s side continued to apply pressure on the visitors and Kirby, making her first start, saw a second shot blocked after Lianne Sanderson had dispossessed Fischer.
Jodie Taylor, also handed her first cap by Sampson, found herself in space in the box after receiving a ball from Kirby, but the linesman flagged for offside.
It wasn’t long before Taylor was presented with another opportunity, though, but this time her shot was saved by Hedvig Lindahl after a lovely move involving Sanderson and Kirby.
With England in the ascendancy, it wasn’t until the 18th minute that Sweden produced their first effort when Lotta Schelin’s cross almost caught out Karen Bardsley, who managed to tip the ball over.
Kirby was involved again as England carved out another opportunity with the midfielder weaving her way through the Sweden defence before seeing her shot saved by Lindahl.
England did have a heart in the mouth moment when Schelin’s shot deflected off Carney towards goal, but Bardsley made a great reaction save to keep the visitors out.
Pia Sundhage’s side did come into the game more as the half wore on, but it was England who took the lead, albeit through controversial circumstances.
Referee Sjoukje de Jong awarded the hosts a penalty after Carney was fouled inside the area. The midfielder missed her initial shot from the spot, but scored from the rebound even though rules state another player should have touched the ball before the taker could make contact with the ball again.
At the time, there seemed to be no appeals from Sweden, but after the half time whistle was blown, a member of Sundhage’s staff approached the referee to protest.
Sweden did have a chance to draw level on the stroke of half time through Emma Berglund, but her free header flew over the bar.
The Three Lionesses started the second half as they did the first and within eight minutes of the restart Sampson’s side were two up when Kirby, on her debut, curled a stunning effort inside the far post.
Carney came close to making it three-nil when Kirby laid the ball to her on the edge of the area, but Sweden’s sub keeper Carola Soberg matched her effort.
Sampson introduced Toni Duggan and Eniola Aluko just after the hour mark and the latter made an instant impact when she hit the woodwork with a thunderous shot.
A third goal did come in the 69th minute when Sanderson finished from close range with England once again taking advantage of Sweden’s inability to clear their lines.
The hosts saved the best for last, though, with Carney curling into the top corner from the left-hand side to make it four with nine minutes remaining.
The Scandinavian side did have a chance to score a consolation in the 85th minute through Schelin, but her header was saved by Bardsley.
England: Bardsley; A Scott, Houghton, Bronze, Stokes; Nobbs, Williams, Carney, Kirby (Duggan, 62); Taylor (Aluko, 62), Sanderson.
Subs (not used): Chamberlain, Bassett, Bonner, Greenwood, Potter, Moore, Scott, Telford, Dowie, Clarke.
Sweden: Lindahl (Soberg, 46), Berglund (Sembrant, 69), Fischer, Thunebro, Schelin (C), Asllani (Dahlkvist, 46), Jakobsson (Hjohlman, 46), Folkesson, Svogran, Nilsson, Seger (Lundh, 61)).
Subs (not used): Ilestedt, Goransson, Rolfo, Appelqvist, Wahlstrom, Ericsson.