With both the men’s and women’s national sides we have been here before. In the midst of a major tournament an optimistic fever takes hold and coupled with a large dose of patriotism we all start to believe that something special is afoot, a conquering of the world.
Usually of course our hopes are dashed and usually too it is cruel and painful. A semi-final exit on pens or in the case of England’s Women at the 2015 World Cup in Canada a 92nd minute own goal with immortality in sight.
This time though feels different. Maybe it’s the surge in interest regarding the Lionesses that recently saw 6.1 million viewers tune in to their opening game against Scotland. From such momentum great things can occur. Or perhaps it is the bellicose words of head coach Phil Neville who repeatedly stated prior to the tournament that his team should embrace the fact that they can return from France victorious.
Maybe too it is the three reasons below. Will Steph Houghton and co raise aloft the trophy at the Parc Olympique Lyonnaise on July 7th? There is no way of knowing that. But can they? Absolutely.
It may have been a tournament comprising of friendlies but it simply cannot be under-estimated how much belief and momentum has installed itself into the squad following March’s success in the SheBelieves Cup. To hold the formidable USA to a draw and triumph over Brazil and Japan was a tremendous achievement and acted as empirical proof that this team can beat anyone on their day.
It was in every sense the perfect fillip ahead of going into a highly pressurised and prolonged major competition and in addition to giving the spirit within the camp greater meaning it also afforded Neville the opportunity to blood some talented younger players prior to their World Cup selection. Of these Arsenal’s Leah Williamson in particular excelled.
The future benefits of their spring success were best summed up by Karen Carney when the champagne was still flowing: “This group seems to have a confidence and a swag. It feels really good and feels like home.”
In the build-up to this summer the Lioness legend and popular pundit Alex Scott reflected on the England Women’s poor Euro campaign back in 2013 saying: “It felt like everybody was talking about us and then we bombed so bad it was unbelievable. We didn’t get out of the group.”
Compare and contrast to the present day and the structure and support around the team ranked third in the world that is designed to instil belief into the players while lessening the load of expectation on their shoulders. When the stakes get high this group will stand tall.
Parris the game-changer
Every tournament winning side needs a special player with the ability to conjure up magic and England have that in 25-year-old Nikita Parris. Last season the FWA Women’s Footballer of the Year scored 19 goals for Manchester City in a prolific year that led to a move across the channel to Lyon. She has the firepower and creativity to make things happen.
Elsewhere there is plenty of experience too, another vital criterion for World Cup glory. England Women’s starting XI v Scotland had 624 caps between them and that’s not including Karen Carney and her 139 caps coming on as a sub.