Rampant, ruthless and record-breaking. The Lionesses roared into the quarter-finals of the Euros with an 8-0 demolition of Norway that had everyone in Brighton’s sold-out and cauldron-like Amex Stadium wondering quite what on earth they were witnessing.
England had stuttered a little under the pressure in their Group A 1-0 defeat of Austria at Old Trafford, but against a potentially potent Norway they became the first team to score seven, and then eight, in a single game at a Euros (men’s or women’s). The crowd revealed in it, aware they were watching something special.
Helped by Beth Mead’s hat-trick and Ellen White’s double, England top the group with a game to play, with their head-to-head victories over Austria and Norway ensuring that even if they drop three points to Northern Ireland on Friday, they lead the pack.
The first goal was fortunate, White was held, but tumbled to the grass slightly theatrically after being fouled in the buildup. Up stepped Georgia Stanway, who mirrored her emphatic penalty against Switzerland in England’s final warmup game, hammering high to Guro Pettersen’s right.
It was the start England needed. Norway were required to push forward, further exposing a weak centre-back pairing of Chelsea’s Maren Mjelde, who is not long returned from an ACL injury, and Manchester United’s Maria Thorisdottir, who underwhelmed in her first season in Manchester after joining from Chelsea.
Three minutes after Stanway’s penalty and Manchester City forward Lauren Hemp had the ball in the net again. It was flagged offside but the decision was overturned by VAR, with both Hemp and White onside.
The Norway players were rattled and England were rampant, steamrolling through the midfield over and over again. There had been nerves ahead of kick-off in the sweltering heat north of Brighton. Norway have a forward line that any team in the world would love to have but if they don’t have the ball they can’t score.
Sarina Wiegman had said prior to kick-off that England had “a plan in possession and out of possession as we always do, and then just go out and play. I think it’s going to be a very exciting match.”
The plan when out of possession was clear, Millie Bright stayed glued to Champions League record goalscorer Ada Hegerberg, matching her physical presence, while the terrier-like hustle of Fran Kirby and Stanway won possession time and time again and limited the service to the Norwegian trio of Hegerberg, Chelsea’s Guro Reiten and Barcelona’s Caroline Graham Hansen.
Many had expected that Wiegman would make one change for the game against Norway, with captain Leah Williamson perhaps moved into the middle and Alex Greenwood back in alongside Bright in the center of England’s defense in order to add an extra layer of protection against Norway. However, that would have meant sacrificing one of Stanway or Kirby, who excelled against Austria at Old Trafford. Instead, there was no change to the starting XI with the manager choosing to stick with the formula that had eased them through the pressure of the first game in front of a 68,000 strong home crowd.
By the half-hour mark it was three, as White robbed Thorisdottir, who had taken a poor touch, before powering forward and slotting coolly past Pettersen.
If the third had the crowd purring, the fourth had people exclaiming at the madness they were watching. There was more chaos at the back for Norway, as Mjelde raced to cover for Thorisdottir only to be shrugged off the ball by White, who sent it back to Hemp, and the City forward delivered a cross for Mead to power into the net with a header.
Four minutes later and England’s fifth was perhaps the prettiest. Mead slalomed into the box from the right, danced past Manchester City’s Julie Blakstad, wrongfooted Thorisdottir and fired low past Pettersen into the far corner.
The goal that would take England past the statement five first-half goals scored by France against Italy was as rapid as the rest. Stanway and Kirby combined again, and the latter’s curving cross to the back post was turned in by White.
Many have talked about the defensive solidity of England under Wiegman, but there is a fire and balance to the attack that is also new. At the World Cup in 2019, England over-relied on White’s goals and much of England’s most positive play came down the right through Lucy Bronze and Nikita Parris – with, ironically, the team’s most complete performance coming against Norway in the last 16. Now , the threat is spread across the pitch, with Mead on the right and Hemp on left, England are virtually unplayable.
That depth extends to the bench and with Ella Toone, Alessia Russo and Greenwood on around the hour mark, England maintained their fluidity, albeit with the foot off the gas a little, with Russo adding the seventh from a looping Bronze cross less than 10 minutes after entering the fray.
Mead grabbed a hat-trick and her fourth goal of the tournament with nine minutes of normal time left, pouncing on Pettersen’s parried shot to tap in.
It was a statement scoreline, a statement performance and a display that will have England’s odds shortening.