New-look England seek World Cup breakthrough
With a new coach and a revamped squad, England go into the Women’s World Cup seeking to atone for the disappointment of their group-stage exit at the 2013 European Championship.
England have reached the quarterfinals at the last two World Cups, but they failed to win a single game at the Euro in Sweden two years ago, which cost longstanding coach Hope Powell her job.
They breezed through qualifying for the World Cup, but with women’s soccer now fully professional in England following significant investment from the Football Association, the pressure is on to deliver.
Welshman Sampson, 32, was appointed in December 2013 and picked up where caretaker manager Brent Hills had left off by overseeing a near-flawless qualifying campaign.
‘The Three Lionesses’ won all 10 of their games to finish top of UEFA qualifying Group 6, scoring 52 goals and conceding just one, in a 2-1 win over Ukraine in Lviv.
Sampson, who once worked under Everton manager Roberto Martinez at Swansea City, favors an expansive passing game and has set his team the target of reaching the semifinals for the first time.
He has asserted his authority by sidelining long-serving Arsenal Ladies midfielder Rachel Yankey, while all-time leading scorer Kelly Smith announced her international retirement in February.
Chelsea midfielder Katie Chapman and Arsenal forward Lianne Sanderson have both returned to the fold following long international absences caused by agreements with Powell.
Eight players, meanwhile, will be playing at a World Cup for the first time — Lucy Bronze, Alex Greenwood, Jade Moore, Jordan Nobbs, Jo Potter, Toni Duggan, Fran Kirby and Jodie Taylor.
With 241 caps between them, Arsenal pair Alex Scott, 30, and Casey Stoney, 33, are the matrons of the back four.
Versatile defender Stoney captained England before Manchester City’s Steph Houghton took over and has become a figurehead for the campaign to drive homophobia from the sport after coming out as gay last year.
A combative holding midfielder, 32-year-old Chapman spent four years in the international wilderness and can expect a warm welcome in North America following her time with Chicago Red Stars.