It promised to be a blockbuster fixture and did not disappoint with VAR drama, goals, and a penalty featuring in the showpiece friendly.
Manchester City winger Lauren Hemp, filling in as a central striker for the injured Alessia Russo, put the Lionesses ahead after just 10 minutes.
The USA responded when Sophia Smith fired in an equalizer, but England was awarded a penalty for a high boot on Lucy Bronze after referee Riem Hussein went to check the VAR monitor.
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Georgia Stanway stepped up to make it 2-1 before the USA had a goal ruled out for a marginal offside minutes later.
Chances continued to fall for both sides after the break – the visitors having the best of them – in an open, frantic encounter.
There was further frustration for the USA after they were awarded a penalty for handball in the 81st minute, but referee Hussein once again checked the VAR monitor and overturned her decision.
England held on to record a huge victory against their long-standing rivals in their first meeting at the national stadium, and extend their impressive unbeaten run to 23 matches under manager Sarina Wiegman.
Speaking to ITV Sport after the game, Wiegman said: “That was really intense, just what we wanted. The USA played as we expected, they gave us hard times sometimes. I thought we played well in moments, better first half than second.”
This was just the third time England have beaten the USA in 11 meetings – and the first victory since the SheBelieves Cup in March 2017. The teams met in the 2019 Women’s World Cup semi-finals when the USA won 2-1.
It also comes 10 months before the 2023 Women’s World Cup which England is bidding to win for the first time, while the USA are hoping to defend its crown for a third successive tournament.
Before kick-off, England showed solidarity with the USA after an inquiry uncovered “systemic” abuse and misconduct in the National Women’s Soccer League earlier this week.
Players wore teal armbands, Wembley’s arch was lit in teal and both squads gathered in the middle before kick-off, arm-in-arm in front of a banner saying ‘Protect The Players’.
USA manager Vlatko Andonovski said after the game: “Obviously it was an extremely difficult week for everybody. It wasn’t easy for them to see and experience everything they went through.
“I applaud their bravery and their fearlessness and relentlessness. They showed once again nothing will stop them from playing the game they love. I hope we never have to go through that again.
“It was a very special moment when the players got together and had the banner in front of them. It gave me goosebumps when the crowd applauded them. It was a statement, and once again the players did an incredible job to use this game and this event as a platform to fight against it.”
England lay down the marker for World Cup
This was one of the Lionesses’ biggest tests so far under Wiegman, and though both teams were missing key players, it was a dress rehearsal for what could come at the World Cup next summer in Australia and New Zealand.
It was pleasing therefore that the fine margins went England’s way in this fixture when they have suffered so much heartbreak in the past.
Beth Mead’s curling cross was not dealt with by defender Alana Cook and Hemp was able to poke in from close range for England’s opener.
The 22-year-old was playing in a less familiar number nine position because of Russo’s absence and thrived, causing havoc all match and creating numerous chances.
Wiegman said of Hemp’s performance: “She was enjoying herself and giving them a lot of problems. It helps that she scored a goal!”
Mead and Chloe Kelly on the opposite wing were also hugely dangerous in an impressive England attack, but Wiegman’s side was also given good fortune.
USA substitute Hailie Mace was shown a yellow card when her high boot caught Bronze in the face, leading to the penalty which Stanway put away to restore England’s narrow lead before half-time.
And VAR twice came to England’s aid when Trinity Rodman’s finish was ruled out after Smith was inches offside in the fluent build-up.
It was another warning sign for England, who were cut open on numerous occasions at the back with Rodman, Megan Rapinoe, and Smith all having big chances.
Asked whether she was happy with her team’s defensive display, Wiegman said: “Sometimes we were very open and we know the USA are very quick, but we wanted to play a game with the high press. We will review and see if we can do better, but this is how we want to play.”
England could have extended their lead too – Stanway fired wide and Bronze struck the side-netting – but the USA thought they had been handed a lifeline when referee Hussein blew for handball with less than 10 minutes remaining.
Replays showed the ball deflected off the back of Rachel Daly and the decision was overturned before England held on to pick up a significant victory over the World Cup holders in front of 76,893 supporters at Wembley.