AFTER thrashing three of the lowest ranked sides in world football, the Lionesses face far sterner opponents in the Arnold Clark Cup.
None come much bigger than Canada, Germany and Spain, with the latter two sides among the favourites to win the Women’s Euros this summer.
The tournament has been billed as a pre-Euros warm-up for Sarina Wiegman’s aces to see how they fare against three of the world’s top 10 sides.
And the Lionesses boss will use it to map her plan for European Championship glory for England on home soil.
The last time the national side reached a major tournament final was the Euros in Finland 13 years ago.
That year Hope Powell’s aces were trounced 6-2 by then six-time tournament champs Germany.
And from Powell’s starting 11 in that game only Jill Scott, 35, remains in a squad now skippered by Leah Wiliamson.
The Lionesses’ first match in the Arnold Clark Cup, taking place in England from February 17 -23, will see them take on Canada on Thursday night.
That 7:30pm clash at the Riverside Stadium comes after Germany’s duel with Spain at the ground at 2:30pm.
England then play Spain at Carrow Road followed by Germany at Molineux.
Ahead of their clashes here is a look at some of the tournament’s talents and the recent form of England and their rivals.
England’s form under Sarina Wiegman
The Lionesses have enjoyed a six-game winning streak since the Netherlands-born head coach, 52, took over as manager last September.
They have netted 53 times keeping clean sheets in all their matches which were qualifiers for the 2023 World Cup.
Results include an 8-0 drubbing of North Macedonia and 10-0 and 20-0 hammerings of Luxembourg and Latvia – three teams ranked outside the top 100 in the world.
Germany, Spain and Olympic gold medal winners Canada will be far different prospects.
Like the Lionesses the trio are currently listed among Fifa’s top ten teams with Germany and Canada ranked the third and sixth best sides in world football.
While England have blitzed some of the game’s least experienced sides, their recent results against top ten teams have been a slightly different story.
Before Wiegman’s arrival the Lionesses endured losses to Spain, France, and Canada over the space of 13 months.
The last top ten team they faced were Bev Priestman’s Canadian aces in April at Stoke’s Britannia Stadium.
And while England enjoyed the bulk of possession, they fell to a 2-0 loss with the second goal coming off the back of an error from stopper Karen Bardsley.
Player to watch: Lauren Hemp
The Manchester City winger, 21, has impressed for club and country over the past two seasons netting 11 goals in 26 WSL starts.
Her blistering pace and powerful drives down the wing have made her a formidable opponent for rivals in England’s top tier.
And the Norfolk-born player has flourished since her recovery from a hamstring injury that kept her out of action from mid-September until November 2020.
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The forward, who has 12 international caps, has netted four goals since making her Lionesses debut in a friendly defeat of Portugal in October 2019.
Last term Hemp won a second successive PFA Young Player of the Year award after helping City take the WSL title race to the wire.
Canada enjoyed Olympic glory last August triumphing in the women’s football tournament at the Tokyo games.
Since October 2020 the team has been coached by Bev Priestman, 35, who took up her role after a two-year spell as England assistant under Phil Neville.
Following back-to-back bronze medals in 2012 and 2016, the team clinched gold at the Tokyo Olympics after winning a penalty shootout against Sweden.
And they defeated four-time World Cup winners USA in the contest’s semis.
Canada have lost just four of their last 17 international fixtures going back to February 2021 registering seven wins.
Victories include a 2-0 friendly defeat of the Lionesses back in April last year.
WSL stars in their squad include Manchester City’s Janine Beckie, 27, Chelsea ace Jessie Fleming, 23, Reading’s Deanne Rose, 22, and Shelina Zadorsky, 29, of Tottenham.
However West Ham’s Adriana Leon, 29, is among their absentees with the forward currently recovering from an injury.
Canada’s most prolific striker is Christine Sinclair, 38, whose goal tally on the global stage exceeds Cristiano Ronaldo’s.
The veteran forward, who has netted in FIVE World Cups, is the all-time leading scorer in the women’s international game with a whopping 188 goals in ten years.
Following the death of Sinclair’s mother Sandi, who passed away after her battle with multiple sclerosis, Canada will compete for the Arnold Clark Cup without their skipper.
Player to watch: Nichelle Prince
Described as a ‘nightmare for opponents’ by Priestman, Prince, 26, was on target in Canada’s 2-0 defeat of England at the Britannia Stadium last April.
In 2020 the Houston Dash forward helped the US club to a National Women’s Soccer League Challenge Cup win.
And the NWSL side, whose players include England ace Rachel Daly, also contains two other stars from Canada’s squad – Allysha Chapman and Sophie Schmidt.
Last year Prince, who has netted 12 goals in 72 senior appearances for Canada, signed a multi-year deal to remain with Houston until 2024.
Of the forward’s efforts for Canada, Priestman said: “Nichelle is a bit of a nightmare to deal with for anybody who comes up against her.
“She can play anywhere across the front three, which is massive when you’re in tournament football.
“She’s a critical player for us and was critical in getting us on the podium in Tokyo.”
Jorge Vilda’s squad includes 10 players from Barcelona, including talents that shredded Chelsea’s defence in last season’s Champions League final.
The team, currently ranked as the ninth best side in the world, are considered dark horses for the Euros crown.
Their squad for the Arnold Clark Cup also includes Manchester United full-back Ona Batlle.
The 22-year-old has notched up one goal and one assist in 13 top tier starts for the Red Devils this term.
And the team’s most capped player – with a total of 93 – is 2021 Women’s Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas.
England have won three of the last five clashes between the sides including a Euros 2017 group stage match with Fran Kirby on target in the 2-0 victory.
However, the most recent duel between the rivals ended in a 1-0 victory for Spain in the SheBelieves Cup in March 2020.
Player to watch: Alexia Putellas
Currently regarded as one of the best players in the world, Putellas, 28, has evolved into a formidable attacking midfielder in Spain’s top-flight.
The LaLiga Women’s ace, who began her senior career at Espanyol in 2010, pulled the strings during Barcelona’s 4-0 demolition of Chelsea last May.
And the Catalan giants went on to claim their first Champions League crown.
Last September Putellas scored one of the fastest hat-tricks in Barca’s history.
The midfield dynamo netted three goals in just FOUR minutes during an 8-0 hammering of Valencia.
On the international stage Spain are yet to make their mark in the later stages of the World Cup.
They reached Round 16 of the 2019 tournament in France before being knocked out by the USA.
And in the past decade Spain have reached the quarter-finals of the Euros twice in 2013 and in 2017 where they were beaten on penalties by Austria.
Like their male counterparts Germany have been among England’s toughest opponents and are the most successful team in Euros history.
Three of the last five international friendlies between the sides have resulted in wins for Germany with the most recent being a 2-1 victory at Wembley in November 2019.
However, England were victorious in the last competitive duel between the rivals which was a 2015 World Cup group stage clash.
Back then a Lionesses starting 11, featuring Jill Scott, Lucy Bronze and Alex Greenwood, sealed a 1-0 victory.
Germany, who have won the Euros EIGHT times, reached the quarter-finals of the 2017 contest before being knocked out by Denmark.
The team, whose WSL aces include Chelsea’s Ann-Katrin Berger, 31, and Aston Villa’s Ramona Petzelberger, 29, have won their last six World Cup qualifiers conceding three times and scoring 32 goals.
However, Berger’s Blues team-mate Melanie Leupolz, 27, is among several high-profile players absent from Martina Voss-Tecklenburg’s squad.
Player to watch: Jule Brand
Brand, 19, was among the players who gave Arsenal a torrid time during their hefty 4-1 Champions League group stage loss to Hoffenheim in December.
The Germany starlet, who netted the opening goal in that game, sealed a transfer to Wolfsburg signing a three-year deal with the Women’s Bundesliga giants earlier this year.
Regarded as one of her country’s most promising young footballers, Brand made her senior debut for Germany in a friendly defeat of Australia last April.
The versatile defender has netted four goals in 10 appearances for her country since then.
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Arnold Clark Cup Fixtures
February 17 – Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough
2:30 pm – Germany vs Spain – ITV4
7:30 pm – England vs Canada – ITV4
February 20 – Carrow Road, Norwich
3:15 pm – England vs Spain – ITV
8:15 pm – Canada vs Germany – ITV4
February 23 – Molineux, Wolverhampton
2:30 pm – Spain vs Canada – ITV4
7:30 pm – England vs Germany – ITV4