England boss Sarina Wiegman expressed her pride in her players’ efforts after the European champions secured World Cup qualification with a 2-0 away victory over Austria.
Returning to action just over a month on from their Euros triumph, the Lionesses needed a point in Wiener Neustadt to seal top spot in Group D and a place at next summer’s showpiece in Australia and New Zealand.
They ended up with all three following a seventh-minute finish from Alessia Russo – brought into the side as a replacement for retired record scorer Ellen White – and a Nikita Parris strike to wrap things up with around 20 minutes to go.
Wiegman said: “I’m happy that we qualified today, that we had a win, conceded no goals, scored two, which is one more than we did in the other two games (England beat Austria 1-0 in the reverse fixture last November and in the Euros group stage). So that’s nice.
“It was again a hard game, but coming out of the Euros, not having that much rest, I’m very proud of the team that we came out like this and we just won the game. It looks so easy but I think it was pretty hard.
“It is absolutely a relief. We also know that if we weren’t successful today, possibly we would qualify on Tuesday.
“But still 2-0 is 2-0, we’re qualified and we had a great qualification (campaign).”
It made it nine wins from as many games in the group for England, who are unbeaten in 21 matches overall under Wiegman, winning 19.
Asked if she could remember what it was like to lose, the Dutchwoman laughed and said: “Of course you remember, but you never get bored with winning.”
When asked about talk of England being among the favourites for the World Cup, she said: “We knew that was going to happen, I think everyone was talking also that we were the favourite of the Euros.
“I think England has always been seen as one of the best countries worldwide and yes, of course, we know that’s the case, but we are just trying to do the things we have to, play football and trying to become better every day, and stay connected as a team.”
Playing in front of a crowd of just 2,600 – some contrast to their last outing when 87,000 were present at Wembley to see them win the Euros – England went ahead early on when Lauren Hemp got her head to Alex Greenwood’s cross and the ball fell to Russo, who volleyed into the corner of the net.
Russo’s new Manchester United team-mate Parris, on for Beth Mead, fired past Manuela Zinsberger to double the lead having been set up by Georgia Stanway.
Before that, Mary Earps, another United player, had denied Austria an equaliser as her fine save on the hour mark kept out Laura Feiersinger’s shot.
Austria boss Irene Fuhrmann, whose second-placed side will take part in the World Cup play-offs in October, said: “We could manage to win the ball sometimes very high on the field but couldn’t convert into goals.
“We played not clean enough in possession of the ball, and it’s often about the last pass, why we don’t create so much chances or don’t score goals. We had better chances (than in the two previous games against England).
“After 2-0 it was mentally very hard and also physically we couldn’t find the next to gear to hold something against England.”