England survived a late scare to climb into second place in Group F after the Three Lionesses defeated Mexico 2-1 to put themselves in good shape to reach the last-16 of the Women’s World Cup.
Second-half strikes from World Cup debutant Fran Kirby and substitute Karen Carney gave Mark Sampson’s women a comfortable lead inside Canada’s Moncton Stadium, but Fabiola Ibarra’s goal deep into extra-time gave the Mexicans a glimmer of hope in the dying embers of the game.
England, who narrowly lost 1-0 to France on Tuesday, move up to second in the table after Saturday night’s crucial victory, just one point behind leaders Colombia after they pulled off the biggest shock of the tournament so far by defeating the Blues 2-0 earlier in the day.
However, it was the Three Lionesses, who started the match bottom of Group F, who carved out the first real opportunity of the game when Jill Scott teed up Kirby in the penalty area, but the forward’s shot was too tame to trouble Mexican goalkeeper Cecilia Santiago.
England, ranked sixth in the FIFA World Rankings, continued to dominate possession during the opening half as Fara Williams, England’s most capped international (142 games), was the next player to try her luck from 30 yards, but her speculative effort looped dangerously over the crossbar.
Then, just moments before half-time, striker Eniola Aluko ran at the North American defence before unleashing an unstoppable shot from the edge of the area, only for the crossbar to come to Mexico’s rescue.
After the break; England continued to climb into their ascendency, but once again the lively Aluko was to be denied twice in quick succession by the outstretching arms of Santiago.
Mexico, ranked 25th in the world, then threatened to snatch an unlikely lead when Monica Ocampo’s in swinging delivery rattled Karen Bardsley’s crossbar directly from a corner.
But moving daringly into the final 20 minutes of the game, Reading forward Kirby stepped forward to take the limelight on her first World Cup start by breaking the deadlock from close-range after showcasing some cool composure inside Mexico’s penalty area.
The 21-year-old danced her way past two defenders before poking the ball past goalkeeper Santiago, before wheeling away in celebration as the ball kissed the inside of the post to give England their first goal of the 2015 World Cup campaign.
Then with just ten minutes remaining, Kirby nearly grabbed her second goal of the game, but her superb curling effort from 18 yards out was brilliantly tipped round the far post by Santiago, who was having a brilliant game in goal for Mexico.
However, the 20-year-old shot stopper was to beaten again just two minutes later when Carney connected sweetly with fellow substitute Alex Greenwood’s delivery to head the ball home and double England’s lead.
Mexico, ranked 25th in the world, then threw on Ibarra in replacement of Ocampo, which worked a treat for a side that have never won a match in any World Cup finals as the substitute pounced onto Bardsley’s poor parry from Charlyn Corral’s initial effort to gobble up the rebound.
After four minutes of injury time, England eventually clung onto their deserved lead to take all three points in Canada against the Mexicans, putting Sampson’s women in a great position for an all-important top-two finish in Group F.
The Three Lionesses face leaders Colombia on Wednesday (9:00pm) in Montreal, knowing a second successive win would see England top Group F and advance into the last-16.
Player of the Match: Fran Kirby