England secured their place at the 2019 World Cup with a superb second-half display to break the resistance of a determined Wales side.
Second-half goals from Toni Duggan, Jill Scott and Nikita Parris in Newport saw England book their passage to France as Wales’ own impressive campaign was dealt a disappointing blow.
A squad filled with amateur players, Wales did not lose any of their other qualifiers and went an incredible 687 minutes without conceding in Group 1 before Duggan’s goal.
But they were second best to Phil Neville’s side, who stuck at their task before finding a more clinical edge after the break.
The result means the Lionesses are guaranteed to be group winners even before their final qualifier in Kazakhstan, while Wales must rely on other results going their way to get a second chance via the play-offs.
Rodney Parade unsettles England… for a time
Wales would certainly have felt they got all the home advantage they could have wished for at League Two side Newport County’s compact ground, more famous for rugby than football.
The idea was to create a cauldron of noise, and that was exactly what Jayne Ludlow’s side got, as the Welsh broke their attendance record for a women’s international.
But if the hope was to unsettle the Lionesses, the opening exchanges did not suggest they were too rattled by the vociferous Welsh support.
Neville’s side could and should have led after only six minutes when Parris turned home an Alex Greenwood deflected shot that came back off the post.
Surprisingly, given the shot was deflected, Parris was onside and the assistant did not raise initially her flag, it was ruled out for offside.
Any English sense of injustice will have been tempered by the fact Wales had an early goal controversially ruled out in Southampton in the reverse fixture as a lack of goal-line technology potentially denied Natasha Harding a winner.
And other than Parris’ stroke of misfortune, Wales keeper Laura O’Sullivan was surprisingly underworked in a first half where England had plenty of possession but little to show for it.
Jordan Nobbs shot wide from long range, while O’Sullivan and Loren Dykes almost got themselves into danger when neither cleared with Jodie Taylor lurking, but O’Sullivan grabbed the ball at the second attempt. She also made a smart save from Duggan’s free-kick on the stroke of half-time.
Wales’ defensive masterclass is ended
Wales came into the contest with seven clean sheets from seven matches and their incredible organisation and team ethic was evident in both games against the Lionesses.
However, as at St Mary’s, their rearguard effort came at the expense of leaving their front two – Helen Ward and Kayleigh Green – somewhat isolated and ultimately the effort expended in defending took its toll.
Green did find space to race clear on 36 minutes and rounded goalkeeper Karen Bardsley, who managed to get a faint touch on the ball to deny the Brighton forward as Rodney Parade screamed for a penalty.
That was as close as Wales came.
England, for their part, looked devoid of ideas for how to break through for long periods.
The breakthrough finally came when O’Sullivan spilled Nobbs’ cross, allowing Fran Kirby to find Duggan, the Barcelona forward making no mistake as she drilled home.
And, once they took the lead, England did not look back as they finally made their superior quality tell.
Steph Houghton almost doubled the advantage with a curling free-kick that O’Sullivan tipped behind, but there was nothing the Wales goalkeeper could do on the hour when the impressive Scott headed home from Lucy Bronze’s touch to all but kill the contest.
Helen Ward came close for Wales as they looked to push forward, but the visitors added a third from another O’Sullivan error as she dropped Greenwood’s free-kick, allowing Taylor to find Parris who nodded home.
Player of the match – Jill Scott (England)
- 7HardingSubstituted forMorganat 90'minutes
- 16NolanSubstituted forHughesat 61'minutes
- 20WardSubstituted forVinczeat 73'minutes
- 8ScottSubstituted forWalshat 83'minutes
- 10KirbySubstituted forDalyat 88'minutes
- 9TaylorSubstituted forChristiansenat 77'minutes
- Katalin Kulcsár
- Shots on Target