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England National Team

A Roaring Success for England’s Lionesses at the Women’s World Cup

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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.

Jodie Taylor has shone in the latter stage's of England's run.

In from the cold. Jodie Taylor has shone in the latter stage’s of England’s run.

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.

Fara's focus. Williams' big game experience has been crucial in the tournament.

Fara’s focus. Williams’ big game experience has been crucial in the tournament.

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.

Mastermind. Sampson's tactical switches have been roundly questioned but he answered the critics.

Mastermind. Sampson’s tactical switches have been roundly questioned but he answered the critics.


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 .

 

I am currently at university studying Mechanical Engineering, but in my spare time I'm into all things football. I'm an avid Liverpool fan but always try to remain impartial. My other interests include gaming and Formula One.

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England National Team

England youngsters begin to repay Gareth Southgate’s faith

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Gareth Southgate

It has not been a vintage few years for England’s national team. Many have tried to find the root of the problem but perhaps the man most qualified is the head coach of the reigning World Champions, Joachim Low.

Speaking a year after Germany’s success in Brazil (where England were dumped out after finishing bottom of their group), he claimed that England must “face up to the fact [that] their young players don’t get the minutes for their clubs”.

It is widely acknowledged that any green shoots of talent which emerge are trampled down by the Premier League and its preoccupation with expensive foreign signings. This, he added cheerfully, also meant that “in the last few years £100 million has been put back into [German] youth development”.

However, failure in Rio was by no means the peak of English embarrassment, emphatically beaten to that title by the defeat to Iceland in Euro 2016. It was this result that led to Chris Waddle’s memorable complaint that the products of England’s development system are “all pampered, they’re all headphones and you can’t get anything out of them”.

Waddle did it most colourfully, but he was one of many to attribute the defeat to a failure to deal with adversity, an inability to adapt in tough times.

After witnessing another leisurely stroll through qualifying for 2018, this time under Gareth Southgate, England fans will be searching for evidence that the next tournament could be different. Friday night’s match against Germany showed that Southgate is beginning to address the problems.

He introduced five debutants at Wembley, the most notable of which were Chelsea starlets Tammy Abraham and Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who have finally received some top flight game time following loan moves to Swansea City and Crystal Palace, respectively.

Now at less illustrious clubs, their inclusion shows Southgate’s willingness to select players from any team, a stark change in selection policy.

Loftus-Cheek and Abraham will benefit not only from the playing time, but also from the unique experience of playing for a struggling team.

The former, just seven appearances into his first proper season in the league, has managed to impress in a Palace team infamous for suffering the worst ever start to a Premier League campaign and changing their manager after just four games. It appears that Loftus-Cheek is not a player who shrinks in adversity, but one who thrives.

Abraham, similarly, has been thrust into a Swansea side who are current favourites for relegation and his four strikes this season represent over half of the Swans’ league goals. He is raw, but is clearly a player able to perform for a struggling team, something which may well come in handy during his England career.

Gareth Southgate has recognised that the many who fail to break into top teams can still become top players. This is not an issue specific to English players, prospects from overseas have also been spun out by the revolving door transfer policies of moneyed clubs.

In the first of his few appearances for Chelsea, Loftus-Cheek took the place in the squad of a young Egyptian who was subsequently loaned out before being discarded. However, despite failing to cement a first-team place at Chelsea, Mohamed Salah is doing brilliantly at Liverpool. His reaction to that setback is an example to all English youngsters.

The England manager will continue to put his faith in players from ‘unfashionable’ clubs and has called up Bournemouth’s Lewis Cook for Tuesday’s game against Brazil. This should encourage the next generation to step out of their academy comfort zone and seek real footballing experience.

If the precocious talents of England’s all-conquering development sides are encouraged to broaden their footballing horizons, we may finally produce players capable of dealing with the glare of an expectant nation. Rounded professionals not ‘pampered headphones’; music to the ears of England fans.

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Crystal Palace

Has Crystal Palace’s Ruben Loftus-Cheek put himself in contention for World Cup selection?

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It was a game that everybody had written off, labelled as just another fixture in what has been a seemingly endless stream of uninspiring and unwanted international matches over the past months.

The tepid nature of England’s recent matches at the end of their European Championship qualifying campaign left a bad taste in the mouth of a lot of the country, and as such the frequent nature of international breaks across the past three months has drained most enthusiasm for the Three Lions.

A number of high-profile withdrawals from the squad did little to whet the appetite ahead of a showdown with old foes Germany either, leaving England’s resources depleted against a world-class side.

Yet whilst Friday’s match did little to inspire before kick-off, with many wondering what Gareth Southgate could possibly take from a match that pitted so many debutants against a strong and well-drilled German outfit, one man ensured that any pre-match script was ripped up and abandoned from the off.

The game may have ended goalless but on-loan Crystal Palace midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek truly lit up Wembley Stadium with an expansive display full of potential and flair to turn a fair few heads.

One of three debutants in the starting line-up, the 21-year-old defied any fears of being overawed by the occasion in front of a packed-out home crowd by putting in an individual display that provided a rare sense of excitement in an England shirt, something not felt since Marcus Rashford’s emergence.

If he felt any signs of nervousness ahead of kick-off then it certainly didn’t show on the pitch, taking just 20 minutes to make his first telling impact with a silky Cruyff turn followed by a sublime nutmeg.

It was a move that exuberated confidence and it set the pattern for Loftus-Cheek’s evening.

He nearly earnt himself a debut assist before half-time, setting Jamie Vardy away with the most delicately chipped ball over an advanced German defence, and it deserved a finish from the striker.

As the match went on it became clear that he held the key to unlocking their opponents, being involved in almost everything good about England’s attacking play, creating two chances in a matter of second-half minutes when he found the late runs of Jake Livermore and Eric Dier in imaginative fashion.

However, aside from these moments, his all-round demeanour showed awful amounts of promise, often holding off German midfielders whilst marauding forwards before threading a pass between a gap.

There was one particular occasion inside the final ten minutes when, despite giving his all for 80 minutes of end-to-end football, he still managed to find the energy within him to burst out of defence and put England back on the front foot, drawing in three players before squeezing a pass away.

The way Loftus-Cheek acquitted himself to the task at hand was admirable and he almost played without fear, showing no signs of being weighed down by the shirt as many others have been in recent years.

He showed signs of elegance and trickery yet he utilised all of his 6’3” frame to bully Germany at times, and the decision to award him man of the match was a fully justified and well-received one.

It is certainly no mean feat to make your international bow against the reigning world champions and leave with the accolade of being the best player on the pitch but it was simply testament to how Loftus-Cheek asserted himself onto proceedings, adding tempo to the hosts’ counter-attacking approach.

Speaking post-match, as relayed by BBC Sport, the youngster was delighted by his debut – and rightly so. He said:

“If we won it would have been better but I’m really happy. It was a really tactical game. It was good for us young players and I certainly learned a lot.

“The manager has said do your best. I had Gareth [Southgate] in charge for nearly three years at the Under-21s and the boys have been great. I’ve settled in really well and they gave me a platform to go out and play.”

Loftus-Cheek’s impressive debut could resonate far deeper than just a one-off friendly match though, not least with next year’s World Cup in Russia gradually growing closer on the horizon.

Yet as a nation we have to be careful.

It doesn’t seem like that long ago that a certain someone called Jack Wilshere arrived on the scene at Arsenal before making his England bow and being largely dubbed as the next big British prospect.

Both expectation and injury have significantly stalled his career – almost to the point of no return considering his struggles to get into Arsene Wenger’s side – and it is important not to get too carried away about Loftus-Cheek’s potential despite his very impressive performance against the Germans.

That isn’t to say that he shouldn’t make the World Cup squad though, as based on Friday’s display against one of the best teams in the world the Palace midfielder is ready to take this huge step up.

Addressing thoughts of the World Cup, Loftus-Cheek remained coy, though:

“To go to the World Cup it’s a long season and I still have to improve. I have to keep learning and getting better and hopefully there’s a chance to get on the plane.”

Whilst Loftus-Cheek himself confessed that he needs to continue learning if he harbours any hope of making England’s World Cup squad, supporters alike will pray his development doesn’t stall.

The next step of his England career – after the friendly against Brazil on Tuesday – remains unclear though, with Alli almost certain to return to the fold and reclaim his role as the attacking midfielder.

Loftus-Cheek’s involvement then depends on how prepared Southgate is to move away from his formation used in qualifying and the usage of both Jordan Henderson and Dier – two very defensively-minded players – and whether the ex-Under 21 boss will be bold and drop one of them from his team.

Either way – and even if Loftus-Cheek doesn’t earn a starting berth – his impact as a squad player could be monumental, and there simply aren’t many homegrown players that can match up to him right now.

It’s likely that his competition for a World Cup berth will come in the shape of Wilshere himself, Jake Livermore and fellow debutant against Germany Jack Cork, and there’s nothing about those midfielders that Loftus-Cheek should be concerned about in his fight for a place on the plane to Russia.

Loftus-Cheek’s sudden emergence onto the international scene shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise though as he’s been a rare bright spark in a troublesome start to the year for Crystal Palace.

The 21-year-old has been the player to drive Roy Hodgson’s side forward, creating nine Premier League chances in his nine appearances – a tally only bettered by Yohan Cabaye and Andros Townsend – and his 83% passing accuracy is the highest of anyone to feature eight times or more.

He has also shown his tendency to be penetrative and direct on the ball – as he proved at Wembley Stadium – by completing 23 of 31 take-ons, averaging just less than four direct dribbles each match.

It’s this attacking intent and consistent ability to pull off his daring moves that will excite most, potentially able to add a new box-to-box dimension in England’s midfield that’s long been vacant.

Nobody will argue that he’s far too good to be playing for a relegation-battling side but the concept of regular football until the end of the 2017-18 campaign will only be a good thing in his efforts to make Southgate’s World Cup squad, able to continue progression against top opposition each week.

Loftus-Cheek’s prior relationship with Southgate from their time spent together at Under-21 level will undoubtedly fall into his favour and it’ll be interesting to see how the upcoming months unfold.

It’s seemingly a quintessentially English thing to do when a player impresses on the international scene, to hype them up and set them up for a fall, but something seems different about Loftus-Cheek.

He has the manner of a man that’s been patiently waiting for his chance on both a domestic and national front – after all, he’s only made 30 Premier League appearances over the course of the past four seasons – and during that time he appears to have built up a thoroughly encouraging attitude.

As with anything, time will tell as to whether he has what it takes at the top level. But for now we should all give credit where credit is due, and look forward to the development of a fresh homegrown prodigy.

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England National Team

Three talking points from England’s World Cup qualifying win in Lithuania

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England

Gareth Southgate’s England ended their World Cup qualifying campaign in Group F unbeaten on Sunday with a 1-0 win in Lithuania, Harry Kane’s first-half spot-kick enough to secure all three points after his Spurs teammate Dele Alli was upended by Ovidjus Verbickas inside the penalty area.

In truth, that was the only real highlight of the 90 minutes, Southgate’s experimental line-up failing to excite in a dour display in Vilnius, following up Thursday night’s below par showing against Slovenia at Wembley which had rubber-stamped the Three Lions’ place in Russia.

The main talking point of the night came from Southgate’s three-man central defence, including a debut for Leicester City defender Harry Maguire, whilst fellow debutant Harry Winks impressed after being handed his first senior cap in midfield.

Despite England boss Southgate facing various critics on social media over his inclusion of the Tottenham youngster in his squad following the injury forced withdrawals of Fabian Delph and Phil Jones, the midfielder was a rare bright spark in a dead-rubber game for England, and was only denied a debut international goal by a flying save from Lithuania goalkeeper Ernestas Setkus after the interval.

Despite a qualifying record of nine wins and one draw from ten matches, there still appears to be much room for improvement for England, who only managed four shots on target.

They may well have been punished had they been facing stronger opposition, with Jack Butland required to intervene on two notable occasions, including a flying save from his own defender Michael Keane following a botched clearance.

But what were the biggest talking points of a wet and windy night in Vilnius as a World Cup qualifying campaign that looks impressive on paper drew to a quiet close?

Experimental England remain unbeaten but laboured against mediocre opposition

With qualification secured, Gareth Southgate handed starts to some of the fringe players in his England squad as he looks to explore more of his options in a bid to identify his strongest starting XI and, with it, his most effective formation and tactical set-up.

Jack Butland, Kieran Trippier, Aaron Cresswell, and Michael Keane all started alongside debutants Winks and Maguire, with Dele Alli recalled after completing a one-match ban. Yet, far from the urgency and hunger to impress that many expected, England made hard work of it against a markedly average Lithuania.

Kane’s 27th minute penalty was England’s first effort on target in a match where they only managed four, and they failed to stamp their authority on the match as the Lithuanians themselves carved out half chances of their own as the game wore on.

In attack, there seemed to be a real lack of forward intent, with Marcus Rashford – one of England’s bright sparks in the win over Slovenia – often opting to run the channels and lose the ball amongst a flurry of Lithuanian defenders.

Few looked willing to gamble in the penalty area in support of lone striker and focal point Harry Kane, with midfielders, such as Jordan Henderson, opting to sit deep rather than venture forward in the aim of hurting the hosts.

The penalty award was a rare moment of craft, with Cresswell getting up in support and Alli’s impressive movement carving open an opportunity from which he drew the foul inside the box. That may well have been enough to secure the points on the night, but does little to stoke the fires of optimism ahead of clashes with stronger opposition in Russia.

The statistics seem impressive, but the performance offers little to write home about. With 30 players having been used by both Sam Allardyce and Gareth Southgate in this qualifying campaign alone, too much reshuffling and little stability and continuity may be one cause of the team’s ills.

On a more positive note, Kane’s strike was his 15th this season for club and country, and his seventh in his previous six appearances for England. The Spurs star will almost certainly be the man that Southgate elects to lead the line in Russia.

More defensive re-shuffling to follow?

Southgate rightfully waited until qualification was secure before re-shuffling the pack in Vilnius, opting to experiment with a 3-4-3 set-up akin to Antonio Conte’s title-winning Chelsea side of last season.

Michael Keane, John Stones and debutant Harry Maguire were the starring trio in the defensive line, and although relatively solid there were a few hiccups along the way.

Jack Butland – handed his opportunity in place of regular Number One Joe Hart – was required to keep out a miscued Michael Keane clearance which may well have ended in an own goal, and had to be alert to cover an 11th-minute flick from Davydas Sernas at his near post, before getting well behind a Deivydas Matulevicius effort after the interval.

On a positive note, Stones looked assured in possession and accurate with his passing within the back three, whilst Maguire enjoyed a relatively trouble free night, unlucky not to have grabbed himself a goal in the third minute from a headed opportunity.

Gareth Southgate has already hinted at the possibility of using the formation again in future, and the three who acted as guinea pigs on Sunday will have done their prospects no real harm here.

Its true effectiveness will be given a far sterner test in the coming weeks, however, with friendlies against Germany and Brazil at Wembley next on the agenda.

Harry Winks justifies inclusion in impressive debut

Gareth Southgate’s decision to include Harry Winks in his squad, even as a replacement for the injury hit duo of Phil Jones and Fabian Delph, raised several eyebrows.

The youngster was handed his international debut having only four starts for Tottenham under his belt, but he justified that inclusion with a man-of-the-match performance, playing a match high 98 passes and offering England a different dimension in the centre-midfield area, which is lacking in regular starters Eric Dier and Jordan Henderson.

It will certainly give Southgate a helpful selection headache for the upcoming games, even if Winks had to stand out amidst so much mediocrity on show in Vilnius.

He brought the bite that England fans expected from the rest of the side when he was allowed to go forward, and appeared far more adventurous than his more seasoned international teammates.

Having spent most of the match sitting deep to accommodate the ineffective Henderson, Southgate could do worse than give Winks game time in a more advanced midfield role.

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