Rachel Brown-Finnis: ‘National treasure’ Fran Kirby is crucial to Lionesses’ hopes at Euro 2022
Posted by  badge Boss on Jul 12
Fran Kirby will be a key part of England’s Euro 2022 campaign this summer (The FA via Getty)

Emma Hayes calls Fran Kirby a ‘national treasure’ and that tag looks justified after she showed glimpses of her very best in England’s opener with Austria.

Emma works with Fran day in, day out at and knows her as a person. She is one of the most talented players we have ever had, a humble but quite quiet player, confident in her own ability like Kelly Smith was.

Fran has bundles of natural talent and I can see why Emma refers to her in such a way – she needs to be protected and continue to be nurtured. She is a matchwinner, a very, very special talent.

When Fran got on the ball against Austria, she showed her quality, threading the ball through to Beth Mead for the only goal of the game.

Her football brain is her super-power, how she sees scenarios, reads pictures, how the defence are set up and where her first touch takes her, where the ball has come from and when to receive it on the half-turn. She anticipates what the movement will be from the forward line and that’s all done in an instant, and she is one of the best players in the world because of that.

She missed large amounts of the latter part of the season and ultimately it was touch and go whether she would even be at the Euros. She managed to get herself back, mentally and physically ready and to be able to start the opening game was excellent news.

Playmaker: Fran Kirby in action for England during their victory over Austria (Rex)

By the time she came off on 63 minutes you could she was waning a little and some of the sharpness had gone – but what a replacement to have for her in Ella Toone. I’d written in my notes on commentary that it was ‘Toone time’ about five minutes before – I really felt in that ten position she could find pockets of space and shoot from range, something I want England to do more – take more chances from distance. You don’t always have to score by getting in behind the backline.

Ella impressed me when she was introduced with Alessia Russo and Chloe Kelly and the Austria defence would have known their evening was far from finished when they saw that attacking trio coming on.

Attacking threat: Alessio Russo goes close to a second in England’s win over Austria (Getty)

Lauren Hemp is arguably England’s brightest star and she had far from her best performance so credit to Austria.

It was a really, really positive start, though. It can be easy to fall into the trap of playing the occasion rather than the match but that is something coach Sarina Wiegman has knowledge of from five years ago with the Netherlands so she will have had everyone fully prepared for the prospect of a record crowd and being able to manage that.

Unless you have been out there and experienced what it’s like to run out in front of almost a full house at somewhere like Old Trafford, you won’t realise just how much that sort of atmosphere can sap your energy.

You have to be able to control your emotions and make sure you have a full tank when you go out on the pitch and do what you’re there for – go out and play football.

The only surprise in the line-up for me was to see Alex Greenwood left out after being a mainstay of the Lionesses’ most recent games but I liked the Georgia Stanway-Keira Walsh combination in central midfield.

World great: Norway’s Ada Hegerberg (Getty)

A big test awaits today against Norway as they have Ada Hegerberg back after a five-year hiatus. This is where it starts to get interesting.

Don’t be under any illusions – Norway have won World Cups and European Championships and in Hegerberg have one of the world’s best players. Patience will be key. England have had a reality check but still got three points.

Old Trafford was a ‘wow’ moment. It opened the tournament with a knockout punch. It’s a different animal to the 2005 home Euros.

Now it is over to Brighton to carry on the momentum.

Thanks to players, over £50million has been invested into football in the last ten years benefiting the women’s and girls’ game by increasing participation and helping young players fulfil their potential. Investment into the Women’s Euros legacy includes £1million of National Lottery funding, invested through Sport England, to get more women playing the game in each host city

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