Alessia Russo vs Ellen White: The debate over which England striker could define Euro 22

The underlying debate simmering beneath the surface in the English camp came to a head in the quarter-final against Spain. Ellen White found herself alone at number nine for the Lionesses for the first hour as the visitors had the upper hand, scored the opening goal and looked set to knock the hosts out of the tournament.

The Spanish defenders managed to keep the ball and neutralize the English attacks thanks to clever triangles. If White pressed, she was often alone, with Beth Mead and Lauren Hemp not playing on the front lines. This made her task futile and frustrating, and she could hardly be surprised when her number was displayed by the fourth official.

To emerge as the nation’s all-time leading scorer is a bold move when trailing 1-0 in the quarter-finals, but Sarina Wiegman has never shied away from big decisions. She is also fully aware of the range of talents she has on her bench. Playmaker Fran Kirby and tournament top scorer Beth Mead were also taken off on the hour mark, allowing the Dutch boss to bring in some fresh legs that could hurt the Spanish defence.


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White’s replacement is Manchester United’s Alessia Russo. The 23-year-old not only boasts an incredible goalscoring record for her country (7 in 11 international appearances), but she’s also a striker who seems to be making England a better side. It seems disconcerting that Wiegman has reached a stage where one might even consider dropping White, but one simply cannot ignore Russo’s impact on the team. England were chasing after the game when they came on and had nothing to lose, but the hunger they showed, pressing forward, changed the dynamics of the quarter-final and she played a pivotal role in that equalizer. She played a vital role in the equaliser. On a cross from Hemp, she had the physicality to jostle her opponent and send the ball into the feet of Ella Toone, Manchester United substitute, who volleyed it.

Millie Bright had been thrown forward, and the hour of the last chance was approaching for the host country, but amidst the chaotic atmosphere, Russo kept his cool at the key moment. She could have tried to score, she could have done a bad check – but she didn’t. His energy and physicality helped score that crucial goal and keep England in the tournament.

Given that Wiegman has chosen the same starting XI for every game so far, it seems unlikely that she will deviate from them for the semi-final, but the impact of these substitutes cannot be ignored forever. Russo was amazing, but Toone offered more than Kirby and scored that goal, while Chloe Kelly was superb, coming on for the suffocated Mead.

Those substitutions helped England win the game in extra time and bench strength will be a key factor if Wiegman’s side are to win the tournament, but it comes back to an old debate. Should you always start with your best team, or is having a well-rehearsed team with players coming off the bench more important to progress in a knockout tournament?

So far it has worked – just barely. But for Russo vs. White on a one-on-one basis, it may come down to experience at this point. White is a class player, she is very gifted in front of goal and it is clear that Wiegman trusts her implicitly. Given what we’ve seen so far, Russo replacing White seems to have a lot more impact for the manager than the other way around.

That said, Russo is something special. No England fan would complain if she were thrust into the starting XI for the semi-final, but if she can continue to share the load from the bench as the quest for a major trophy continues, the shirt number nine for future tournaments will be in his hands.

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