Undeterred by the cold and driving rain, a record home crowd for an England women’s football international saw the Lionesses beaten 2-1 by Germany at Wembley Stadium Saturday.
Building on the growing popularity of the women’s game, the pre-match sales for the friendly clash at the iconic stadium had come close to a sell out, with the eventual attendance of 77,768 setting a new high mark.
By comparison, the previous record of 45,619 came back in 2014 when England lost 3-0 to the same opponent at Wembley, since when its playing fortunes have markedly improved with successive semifinal appearances at the 2015 and 2019 Women’s World Cups.
But a poor run since its heroics in France this summer has seen Phil Neville’s team struggle and a 90th minute winner from Klara Buhl extended Germany’s fine record of seven straight wins on English soil.
It was England’s fifth defeat in seven games since the World Cup finals, but the expectant and boisterous home crowd at least saw a spirited display after captain Alexandra Popp put Germany ahead in the eighth minute with the visitor totally in control.
Nikita Parris might have equalized later in the first half, but saw her penalty saved by Mere Frohms, only for England’s prolific striker Ellen White to level on the stroke of halftime with an opportunist finish.
A massive roar greeted the announcement of the record crowd during the second half, but England was unable to gain inspiration and it was Germany that applied late pressure as Buhl’s left foot shot from an assist by Dzsenifer Marozsan settled the issue.
Former Manchester United and England star Neville was left bitterly disappointed after another defeat.
“We are not playing to our maximum and not reaching the levels we reached at the World Cup,” he said.
‘“It was nowhere near the level I want as a manager, we have to make massive improvements, the results we have been having are unacceptable.”
Germany on top
His worst fears would have been confirmed by the early exchanges as England struggled for possession before Popp flicked a header past Mary Earps from a Kathrin Hendrich cross.
England slowly worked its way back into the match, with Beth Mead offering a good option in rare attacks.
She was floored by a heavy tackle by Sara Doorsoun in the 28th minute, with the German player lucky to escape with just a yellow card, before earning a penalty in the 35th after she was pulled down by goalkeeper Frohms.
Parris, who missed two spot kicks in the World Cup, saw her effort saved by Frohms before White partially spared her blushes by beating the offside trap to level it up just before the break, her sixth goal in her last five England games.
The second half saw more sustained England pressure, with White always a threat but the home side had a scare on the hour mark when Lina Magull tapped in after Earps had denied Buhl, the effort ruled out for offside.
After a raft of substitutions, it was Germany which finished the stronger and Buhl took full advantage as England captain Steph Houghton could not get across in time to block her effort.
However, the crowd, just short of the target of 80,023 spectators who turned up at Wembley for the Olympic final in 2012 between the United States and Japan, had seen a competitive encounter with Germany living up to its current ranking as the second best team in the world behind the United States.
The world record attendance for a women’s match came at the 1999 World Cup final in Pasadena, California, where 90,125 watched the US beat China in a penalty shootout.