Now that the Women’s World Cup of 2015 has drawn to a close, it seems like a prime opportunity to review what has been a fantastic tournament as a whole. Underdogs caused exciting upsets, some high quality goals were notched, and the final itself boasted a score-line of 5-2. Furthermore from a purely nationalistic basis, England made the country proud with some brilliant demonstrations of both passion and ability. So what is it that has made this Women’s World Cup such an invigorating one for those at home cheering the girls on?
First of all, this summer’s events have seen players emerge onto the international stage to now attain the status of cult hero among many. As the relative baby of Mark Sampson’s squad of 23 in Canada, Fran Kirby could be forgiven for being a little over-awed by the whole experience. In fact, the opposite could not have been more true. After looking lively as a substitute in England’s opening match, she was given the chance to perform from the start against Mexico in the crunch match of the group. Grabbing the opportunity with both hands, the later dubbed ‘England’s mini Messi’ poached the first of 2 goals for England that day to set up their progression from the tournament. Looking to be the most potent threat for the Lionesses’ front line all day, it was her maturity and strength under pressure which drew most plaudits, whilst also being able to express her natural flair on the biggest stage of all. Translating her scoring record for Reading in the second division of women’s football to her national team was no mean feat and her enthusiasm was refreshing to watch.
Lucy Bronze could be considered by some as the stand-out performer for England across the whole tournament. Impressing in a variety of roles and positions against all calibres of opposition, the physically imposing Bronze was a thorn in the side for all competitors. Having transferred from centre-half to full-back at an earlier point in her career, England’s number twelve demonstrated terrific ability around both penalty areas. Firstly in a defensive sense, she showed a level of understanding beyond her years, frequently making astute decisions under intense pressure from attackers. In addition, she contributed significantly in the offensive area of the pitch. Most notable of course was her stunner from outside the area against Norway, but equally as important was a looping header from the back post which beat Canadian goalkeeper McLeod. Both ended up being the winning strike as her importance to Mark Sampson’s side was cemented.
As someone who had struggled to gain either opportunities or recognition under previous regimes for the national side, Jodie Taylor seized the chance to impress in Canada over the last month. Despite her preparation for the tournament being hampered by injury, she was able to show enough as a substitute in the victory over Norway to warrant a starting role against Canada. Taylor set off at a terrific pace, running her proverbial socks off and netted the opener which was testament to her efforts. A well-honed predatory instinct came to the surface but this was not all that she brought to the table. To never stop running for 90 minutes despite this being her first full appearance since returning from injury was an astounding effort and her position at the forefront of England’s attack was a crucial factor for the Lionesses’ progression in the latter stages.
Captain Steph Houghton continued the upward trend of her international career that was dealt a kick-start in 2012 with her goal-scoring efforts as part of Team GB during the London Olympic Games. Now the skipper and playing at the heart of defence, she led the group to perfection from start to finish. In all the interviews and media events during the build-up to the tournament, she conveyed the perfect blend of excitement and focus. On the pitch, Houghton was an ever-present and played every minute of England’s seven games en-route to a third-placed finish. Despite having experience of playing at the highest level for several years, leading your country into a World Cup is surely another step up and the Manchester City defender did not appear fazed at any stage.
Jill Scott has been a regular for England for several seasons now, amassing almost a century of appearances at international level. However, the towering midfielder’s preparation for the World Cup was hardly without a hitch, as she became embroiled in an ugly confrontation in the domestic league where she ended up being banned for several matches after head-butting an opponent. Nevertheless, this did not seem to influence her actions in Canada for one second as she was without doubt her usual exuberant and combative self. Asked to play in a variety of positions by Mark Sampson, she applied herself superbly on every occasion, performing with the required tenacity whilst also demonstrating the technical ability on the ball that makes her such a valuable asset for both club and country. Clearly a leading figure in the dressing room too, Scott cemented her status as a fan’s favourite.
Fara Williams is the most experienced member of the England squad which ended up with a bronze medal in Canada. Her story to become the most capped England player ever (male or female) is only made more astonishing by the fact that she was homeless for the majority of her first seasons in the professional game. Such resilience and absolute refusal to quit stood her in good stead for the challenges thrown England’s way in the World Cup. Not only was she a reliable head to turn to when opposition teams launched attack after attack at their back-line, but she frequently exhibited the sort of finesse on the ball that often befits the likes of Pirlo and Xavi. With a dead-ball delivery that was second to none at the tournament in my opinion, the Liverpool central midfielder constantly tested the defensive organisation of England’s opponents. Her prowess from 12 yards out is also clear to say, grabbing her third successful penalty of the tournament in the dying embers of the third-placed play-off against Germany. A trait not to be sniffed at from an English representative.
Finally, we arrive at Mark Sampson who has certainly had his doubters in both the months leading up to the World Cup and indeed during the early rounds of the tournament itself. Having developed a reputation as something of a serial rotator of the starting XI, Sampson did leave himself open for criticism. The widely recognised principle of top-class coaches world-wide is to make as few changes as possible to a side that is winning games. This is hardly followed by the English boss who would not only change personnel but often vary systems during matches sometimes for no apparent reason.
However, facing his critics with a straight bat, you cannot doubt that his method achieved the required end result. With every member of the squad forever unaware of if they had performed to a high enough standard to retain their place in the team, there was a tremendous competitive edge maintained from game to game. In addition, there was no visible resentment from those players who were rotated from the previous match, instead being replaced by the utmost desire to make the most of any opportunity they were handed. This aspect of proceedings was so refreshing to observe and the obviously deep-running team spirit amongst the entire party of 23 is undoubtedly the prime reason behind England’s progression. Pure and unbridled joy at each other’s success is something that the men’s senior side should take heed of. Not since Greece in Euro 2004 has there been a more obvious example of a group being greater than the sum of their individual parts.
Did the exploits of England’s lionesses make you proud again at an international tournament? Who or what do you think was the main reason behind their success? Can this squad build on the events of last month and go into the next World Cup as serious contenders for the trophy? Let us know on twitter @TBRFootball .