With a home Euros next summer and the 2023 World Cup to follow, Sarina Wiegman would probably prefer her England players to enjoy far more elite examinations than double-figure strolls against minnows. Just like North Macedonia, Luxembourg and Northern Ireland before them, Latvia lacked the professionalism and energy to live with the talent of her England squad.
Until then, the function of such matches is to flush Wiegman’s players with confidence. Just like Beth Mead on Saturday against Northern Ireland, Ella Toone’s hat-trick reflected the form of a player hitting the heights in the Women’s Super League, and further cemented the 22-year-old Manchester United midfielder as a national team fixture. Her partnership with Fran Kirby has become the creative fulcrum of an attack brimming with talent and depth.
“To score one goal even for your country is amazing,” said Toone. “I’m proud for me and my family. It’s a night I will never forget. It’s really exciting. We know the depth in the squad we have, and tonight [we] showed that. We had seven different scorers.”
Leah Williamson, the captain, stepped into the backline to probe from the back with her passing and score a late goal. Amid the goal glut, Ellen White, who at kick-off was three short of Kelly Smith’s all-time record of 46 goals, may be disappointed to have scored just one of the 14 England have run in during October’s qualifiers. White’s stumbling block was often the rest of her teammates queueing up against opposition that gave up on both attack and midfield, and could barely defend either.
White’s 44th England goal arrived in the 25th minute after a goal kick from the Latvia keeper Enija-Anna Vaivode barely reached the centre-circle and was played first time to White from Toone. White later missed out on number 45 from the penalty spot as Vaivode saved her effort and then also bravely denied Millie Bright, who had previously scored the fourth, as she attempted to bundle the rebound in.
A half-time score of 4-0 was slightly under-par against amateur opposition in a country of just 1,800 registered female footballers, though more was clearly to come once greater fatigue set in. The break gave Wiegman the chance to take off White, Kirby and Lauren Hemp, and introduce the speed of Nikita Parris, Georgia Stanway and Rachel Daly into attack. Again a somewhat disorderly queue formed with potshots aplenty raining down before Mead’s angled finish to make it five added a touch of class. Toone rifled in her third from a similar angle but with more power. She was immediately substituted to leave the field with a broad smile.
Daly, from Mead’s assist, scored the seventh from inches out as Latvia visibly sagged with exhaustion, even if they had barely ventured beyond the edge of the box from the kick-off. Then Williamson, stepping forward, bent in her second goal for her country and the first in the armband she hopes to hang on to when the likes of Lucy Bronze and Steph Houghton return from their injuries. Stanway added a ninth soon after before Daly made it double figures ahead of a despairing Vaivode, who despite conceding 10 had actually played a rather good game.
At the other end, the England goalkeeper Mary Earps was barely near the ball from first minute to last, her main contribution being to loudly encourage her teammates not to give away cheap free-kicks. Wiegman can have learned little about the Manchester United goalkeeper over the last four matches.
Austria next month – “tougher opposition,” as Toone described them – should be a truer test of Wiegman’s players. With the Euros finals draw to come later this week, the Dutch coach will be able to focus on more difficult assignments than the turkey shoots of her opening matches in charge. Until then, a tally of 32 goals from four matches and none conceded represents a hefty and promising return.