KATIE MISHNER / AIPS in TILBURG*: One hour before kickoff in Tilburg, the common reaction around the Willem II Stadion was: “10 changes?” Yet in the end England proved that they have more than one winning formula as they edged past Portugal to top their table at UEFA Women’s EURO 2017..

An early goal from Toni Duggan was cancelled out by Portugal’s Carolina Mendes so Portugal’s coaching staff, monitoring the other Group D match, knew at halftime that they were heading towards the quarter-final.

Their dreams were quickly dashed as Nikita Parris struck two minutes into the second half for the Lionesses and earn England’s first-ever nine-point start in a European Championship.

Earlier the risk of changing all but one player from the 2-0 win over Spain was illustrated as Fara Williams picked up a yellow card in the fifth minute. Fortunately for Sampson, two minutes later Toni Duggan was there to capitalise on a mistake by Patricia Morais.

The keeper’s miscued clearance struck Barcelona’s new signing who turned and looped her shot over Morais and under the bar.

However England’s second string, despite having been gifted the early advantage, did not look cohesive whereas Portugal’s more compact approach allowed them to gain ground.

The connection between captain Caludia Neto and Diana Silva proved to be a challenge for the England backline.

Ten minutes later, a precise through ball from Neto to Silva carved out space in the England penalty box. Silva’s first cross was blocked but she flicked back the ricochet for Mendes to score from close range.

Referee Kateryna Monzul was stern with her whistle, gestures and body language throughout the opening exchanges. When Izzy Christiansen made a late challenge on Ana Borges, the Ukrainian showed a second yellow of the night without hesitation.

Back in front

England’s attacking approach was ineffective in the first half but they quickly rewrote the storyline after the break.

In the 47th minute, Parris found herself one-on-one with Morais after Manchester City teammate Christiansen lobbed the ball into her path. She slipped the ball through the keeper’s legs.

The arrival of substitute Jordan Nobbs brought creativity and width to England’s game but Portugal remained cohesive both defensively and moving forward.

Neither looking likely to find a goal again until deep into stoppage time when substitute Laura Luis volleyed directly at Siobhan Chamberlain.

Once the England keeper launched the ball back into play the match ended to present with Portugal a flight home and England with the quarter-final challenge of France whom they have not beaten since 1974.

** AIPS is the international sports journalists’ association with 10,000 members worldwide. and is currently undertaking a Young Reporters course in the Netherlands in co-operation with UEFA, More information: www.AIPSmedia.com

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