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 .
World Cup One To Watch: England’s 24-year-old goalkeeper Jordan Pickford
The England international will be a player to keep an eye out for in Russia.
At a time when the country’s goalkeeping options have never looked stronger, the Everton number one has emerged as Gareth Southgate’s preferred option ahead of this month’s competition in Russia.
To see who else features in The Boot Room’s World Cup Ones to Watch series, click here.
Who is he?
Jordan Pickford became the most expensive British keeper in history after Everton paid £25 million – rising to what would be a club record £30 million – to sign him from Sunderland last summer.
A product of the Black Cats’ Academy, after joining the club aged eight – he has had spells on loan at Darlington, Alfreton Town, Burton Albion, Carlisle United, Bradford City and Preston North End.
Despite a turbulent season for the club as a whole, Pickford enjoyed an impressive debut campaign at Goodison Park, which saw him named the Toffees’ Player of the Season, Players’ Player of the Season and Young Player of the Season.
Playing every minute in all 38 Premier League fixtures for the Blues, the 24-year-old has quickly begun to repay what had previously been considered a hefty price-tag.
What is his international experience/record?
Having represented England at all levels from Under-16s, Pickford his senior bow in a 0-0 draw against world champions Germany in November 2017 before keeping a second clean sheet in a 1-0 away win against Holland in his second appearance for The Three Lions.
The 24-year-old made only his third international appearances when he started in a 2-1 friendly victory over Nigeria last weekend before he was all-but confirmed as Southgate’s number one shot-stopper ahead of the summer competition.
It is suggested that his superior ability with the ball at his feet and distribution is more conducive to the possession-based pressing style the relatively inexperienced England boss wants to implement.
Why will he be a breakout World Cup star?
“I was really pleased with what Jordan did,” Gareth Southgate revealed, as per BBC Sport, full of praise for Pickford after his performance against Nigeria.
“Normally, when you play for England, there’s not an awful lot of opportunity to produce a lot of saves. But his decision making on crosses, the punch he made, his distribution and calmness to slide passes into midfield… that was really important to the way we want to play.”
Pickford’s form will be absolutely key for an England side that has struggled for creativity in recent years.
The Three Lions’ progression from Group C – competing with Belgium, Tunisia and Panama – is likely to come down to the slimmest of margins and, in keeping goals out at the other end of the pitch, the 24-year-old will be instrumental.
What is his future after the World Cup?
While many Premier League fans would initially consider Pickford content to stay at Goodison Park, an impressive showing in Russia could prove a springboard to even greater things.
According to recent reports by The Sun, Bayern have been scouting Pickford in recent months as they look to bring in a new long-term first-choice goalkeeper.
The former Sunderland favourite’s progress since his £30 million move means the Bavarian giants have identified the 24-year-old as a top choice for succeeding club icon Manuel Neuer.
Ahead of the World Cup, Bayern will surely not be the only side monitoring his future, with assured goalkeepers becoming increasingly difficult to lay hands on.
Involvement in Russia could result in an unexpected and somewhat premature Goodison exit for Pickford. Watch this space.
To see who else features in The Boot Room’s World Cup Ones to Watch series, click here.
Three reasons to be optimistic about England’s World Cup chances
Could Gareth Southgate have assembled the tools for success in Russia?
With just a matter of days remaining until the 2018 World Cup starts in Russia there is a sense of excitement building among football supporters across the globe.
This year’s tournament will be the largest international football competition in history, with a record 32 teams participating, and countries such as Brazil, Argentina, Germany, France and Spain are once again being touted among the favourites to win the competition.
But, what about England?
Recent history has indicated that the team are no longer one of the leading international sides in world football, as ruthlessly highlighted by their exit from Euro 2016 following an embarrassing defeat against Iceland. In fact, England have not won a match in a World Cup since 2006 and, quite rightly, expectations are not particularly high going into the tournament.
Here, The Boot Room provides three reasons why England fans should be optimistic about their team’s chances at the World Cup this summer.
In order to win a major international tournament you need to possess a prolific goal scorer and there is none better in the world right now than Tottenham Hotspur forward Harry Kane.
The 24-year-old has scored 135 goals at club level across all competitions over the previous four seasons and has emerged as the most prominent striker of his generation in England. Not since Alan Shearer has a forward produced such quality and consistency in front of goal over a prolonged period of time.
Quite simply, Kane guarantees goals.
Regardless of whether he has been actively involved in the game or is playing well you always fancy him to find the back of the net if half a chance arrives. He scores a wide range of goals and is equally as likely to finish from close range as he is to unleash a long-range thunderbolt.
At major international tournaments, when the difference between failure and success is so fine, a proven goal scorer could make all the difference.
A core group of talented young players
There were some raised eyebrows around the country when it was announced that the Football Association had appointed Gareth Southgate the permanent England manager.
The 47-year-old had performed well with the under 21 side and had steadied the ship somewhat after stepping into the senior team on a temporary basis following Sam Allardyce’s unsavoury departure. However, his failure at club level with Middlesbrough still remained at the foremost of many people’s memories.
Southgate has gradually developed a squad that is new, fresh and is built around a core group of young, talented individuals. Only five members of the team who are heading to Russia in the summer were involved in England’s previous World Cup campaign whilst senior figures, most notably Wayne Rooney and Joe Hart, have been gradually fazed out.
This new-look England should be a source of excitement. Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Raheem Sterling, Eric Dier, John Stones, Marcus Rashford, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Trent Alexander Arnold are all under the age of 24 and will bring pace, energy and enthusiasm. Furthermore, they are still all developing and have not reached their peak.
More importantly, many of these players will be unscarred from previous England campaigns at major international tournaments. These fresh attitudes and sense of fearlessness will be key to ensuring that the team progress to the latter stages of the tournament.
A better structure and more suitable system
In the past, England have arrived at major international tournaments deploying traditional, rigid formations that often lacked balance and restricted the freedom of creative players. In short, the systems used have rarely allowed the team to flourish.
However, it appears that Gareth Southgate is opting to go down a slightly different route this summer by utilising a 3-4-3 formation.
The system suits the players that he has at his disposal. The attack-minded nature, pace and quality of Kyle Walker, Kieran Trippier, Danny Rose and Ashley Young makes them perfect wingbacks. At the other end of the pitch Harry Kane will be supported by Dele Alli and Raheem Sterling, who will be given the freedom to roam and be creative influences.
Southgate appears to have provided the England team with a clear structure that has transferred into positive results on the pitch. The side have been harder to break down and more defensively resilient whilst still retaining a concise attacking threat going forward.
There is an abundance of pace throughout the team which will make England equally as effective playing on the front foot or looking to sit back and counter attacker more superior teams.
It is a refreshing change to see an England team enter a major tournament with a clear structure and plan in place with a system that suits the players available.
Gareth Southgate’s Harry Kane decision was the first of a hopeful campaign for England
England National Team manager Gareth Southgate announced Harry Kane would be the country’s next captain on Tuesday, much to the delight of the 24-year-old striker.
Kane expressed his appreciation on Twitter, posting a picture of himself shaking hands with Southgate and describing it as “a very proud day.”
The Tottenham Hotspur star is a fantastic choice to captain England in this summer’s World Cup, as the country’s best player is known to lead effectively and serve as an immaculate example for his teammates.
Although Kane does not wear the captain’s armband at club level (that honour goes to goalkeeper Hugo Lloris), the Englishman nevertheless has all the characteristics of an impressive skipper.
Some may argue that the captaincy should go to defenders or central midfielders rather than attackers, yet if a player has the passion required, their position is irrelevant.
Kane is a player who undoubtedly loves playing for the Three Lions and has an excellent record of 12 goals in his 23 caps.
He might not be the most vocal and animated of leaders on the pitch, but his work ethic, desire, and knack for scoring crucial goals are all attributes his fellow Englishman can look up to.
The Tottenham forward is certain to be one of the first names on the teamsheet in Russia, and this consistency is crucial for Kane’s captaincy.
Southgate recognised these ever-present qualities as vital parts of Kane’s character, commending the striker’s diligence and determination.
“Harry has some outstanding personal qualities,” Southgate told the Evening Standard. “He is a meticulous professional and one of the most important things for a captain is that they set the standard every day.”
The Tottenham Hotspur striker will surely reward his manager’s faith by serving England proud as captain this summer, and Kane will be remembered as a legend if his goals can fire the Three Lions deep into the tournament.
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