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Creativity, Keating and Olympic qualification: key issues for England

Kirby can start to fill creativity gap

The return of Fran Kirby and, hopefully soon, Beth Mead cannot come soon enough for the Lionesses. England suffered their third defeat under Sarina Wiegman in the Netherlands last month and were made to work hard in the preceding 2-1 victory over Scotland. England have been missing players with the creative intelligence of Kirby and Mead. The team are creating openings but struggling to make the right decisions in the final third to make them count. Mead is not in the squad, having only recently made her return for Arsenal, but Kirby is back, as is Keira Walsh, who missed the last camp due to injury. Mead and Kirby have demonstrated exactly what Wiegman’s side have been missing recently, the former in style, providing an assist for Alessia Russo to earn Arsenal a 94th-minute winner against Aston Villa.

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Keating call-up is significant

Manchester City’s goalkeeper Khiara Keating said she hoped to “be an inspiration” as the fourth person of colour to be called up to a senior England squad as a goalkeeper. Should Keating step on to the pitch for the Lionesses, she would be the first person of colour to represent the women’s team between the sticks. Becky Spencer, David James and Shaka Hislop also got call-ups but only James picked up a senior cap. Keating said: “Coming from a background of colour, there’s not many of us. I think we’re starting to see a rise and I’m just happy that I could be an inspiration to anyone out there that’s thinking: ‘Maybe I will get judged or maybe it’s not for me.’ I’m just grateful to be in a position where I can be a role model to those people.” Keating is unlikely to step into the spotlight in these important back-to-back Nations League fixtures against Belgium on Friday and Tuesday, with Mary Earps a critical part of England’s spine, but her call-up is a significant step.

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Renate Jansen scores the late goal that condemned England to defeat in the Netherlands last month.Renate Jansen scores the late goal that condemned England to defeat in the Netherlands last month. Photograph: Kieran McManus/Shutterstock

Olympics on the line

The defeat by the Netherlands in the last round of Nations League fixtures has heaped the pressure on England. Belgium earned an impressive 2-1 win over the Netherlands in their opening Nations League fixture and sit top of League A Group 1 on four points. The Netherlands are second and England third on three points each, with Scotland bottom on one point. England need to reach the final of the inaugural women’s Nations League to guarantee qualification for the Olympics for Team GB, although third place would suffice should France – who qualify automatically for the 2024 Games as hosts – reach the final. England need to win all their remaining games, including at home to the Netherlands in December, to be sure of top spot.

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Who is Mary Earps’ successor?

Ellie Roebuck had appeared to be the natural successor to Karen Bardsley. The young goalkeeper had started all of Team GB’s games at the Tokyo Olympics in the summer of 2021 after an injury to her Manchester City clubmate Bardsley and she stepped in for club and country, having impressed when given the chance. Then injury struck, a calf problem picked up on the eve of the 2021-22 season leading to five months out. Roebuck missed Wiegman’s arrival and first few camps and Earps made her mark. Since then, Roebuck has struggled, failing to win the shirt back and seemingly falling further down the pecking order. Roebuck remains in Wiegman’s squads but she has found it difficult to rediscover the form that had many predicting her as England’s No 1 for the long term. As Roebuck’s form stalls, the stock of Hannah Hampton, Keating, Sophie Baggaley and Emily Ramsey rises. Hampton, Roebuck and Keating have been selected alongside Earps for these latest fixtures but Roebuck, having lost her place to Keating at City so far this season, risks slipping even further out of contention.

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