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England missing Duggan - but marvellous Mead makes the most of chance

England missing Duggan - but marvellous Mead makes the most of chance

15/06/2019 at 08:00Updated 15/06/2019 at 09:08

Injured Toni Duggan is a real absence for England, who need someone to strike fear into the hearts of the opposition - but Beth Mead is impressing with her industry.

England are through to the last 16 of the 2019 Women's World Cup - and they did it with a slender 1-0 win over Argentina, missing a penalty into the bargain.

It was Jodie Taylor's chance to lead the Lionesses' line in the continued absence of Toni Duggan - with Ellen White benched for this second fixture in Group D.

And the Reign striker scored the only goal of the game, turning in a brilliant ball from Beth Mead on the left that evaded an entire despairing Argentine defence.

Beth Mead and Jodie Taylor celebrate the goal against Argentina

Beth Mead and Jodie Taylor celebrate the goal against ArgentinaGetty Images

So where is Duggan? Manager Phil Neville said at Thursday's pre-match press conference that she was still struggling with her fitness.

The Barcelona striker arrived in France with the rest of the squad already suffering from a right thigh injury - and rumours this week suggested that the possibility of replacing her had been discussed. Other countries had done the same, using the window of opportunity prior to their first group matches to ensure that their squads were at maximum capacity.

Neville and his staff, however, decided to gamble it all on Duggan's fitness - and so far she has not been able to even participate fully in training due to the extent of the injury.

The manager put a brave face on it, brazening it out by saying:

" She's come on in leaps and bounds since the last game against Scotland. [The Argentina match has] just probably come a day too soon for Toni, but she'll be back with us for the Japan game, definitely."

Like his predecessor Mark Sampson, Neville is making a reputation for himself as someone who likes to tinker with his starting line-up - but he may also have made a rod for his own back if and when Duggan does return. He had plenty of praise for the players who took part in the match against Scotland, adding:

" Those players deserve the right to go again."

In one way, Duggan's absence has been a positive; Mead has been given a starting spot that she certainly would not have had, and been spectacular in her creative play and her set pieces, supporting the rest of the forward line.

But should Duggan be available for the Japan match, will she slot right in to the team, with everyone crossing their fingers that her injury is healed and that she has enough nous to make it through 90 minutes?

On the evidence of the performance against Argentina, one has to suspect that she probably would do. With more than four-fifths of the possession and only one goal to show for it, the Lionesses' display on Friday night was not a clinical one, and though it was hard-working and tenacious, it was nothing to instil fear into the rest of the competition.

A player like Duggan - who has averaged around a goal every other game at senior club level for her entire career, and has consistently impressed at international and continental competitions alike - might be the change England need to finally confirm that they are real contenders for this Women's World Cup.

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