Big Three stand­ing in our way

ENG­LAND READY TO FACE WORLD’S BEST

The Football League Paper - - WOMEN'S FOOTBALL WEEKLY - By Tony Leighton

ENG­LAND women are set for the mother of all foot­ball ex­am­i­na­tions as they pre­pare to face the best three teams in the world at the She Be­lieves Cup.

Amer­ica, Ger­many and France – re­spec­tively first, se­cond and third in the world rank­ings – lie in wait for fifth-ranked Eng­land at the four-na­tion tour­na­ment, which is be­ing played in the US states of Florida and Ten­nessee.

Lionesses head coach Mark Samp­son knows as well as any­one just how tough it will be in a week­long sched­ule of three matches.

The first will be on Thurs­day against world cham­pi­ons Amer­ica, fol­lowed by meet­ings with Ger­many and France.

As he looks ahead to the tour­na­ment, how­ever, Samp­son is far from daunted.

“It will be a huge, huge test for us and a mas­sive chal­lenge,” he said, “but we’re in­cred­i­bly ex­cited about the op­por­tu­nity.

Rooftops

“Fun­da­men­tally, we want to go and get some pos­i­tive re­sults. We’re not go­ing there to lie down and get beaten. Our ob­jec­tive is to win the tour­na­ment.

“We know how dif­fi­cult that will be, but there’s a strong be­lief in this group now. We’re not shout­ing it from the rooftops, but we are con­fi­dent that, if we get things right and pro­duce near-per­fect per­for­mances, we can beat th­ese teams.”

Samp­son’s side have met all three op­po­nents in the last 12 months, first los­ing a home friendly 1-0 to the USA, then go­ing down by the same score­line to France in the group stage of the World Cup.

But they claimed World Cup bronze with a 1-0 third place play­off win over Ger­many – the first ever Eng­land vic­tory over their peren­nial neme­sis – fol­lowed by a goal­less away draw to the Ger­mans in Novem­ber.

Samp­son said: “Ev­ery one of those games was re­ally tight.

“They were on a knife edge, with small mar­gins mak­ing such a big dif­fer­ence.

“We are get­ting closer to the very top teams, but there’s a big dif­fer­ence be­tween get­ting closer and con­sis­tently get­ting over the line – and that’s our aim now.”

Samp­son’s squad shows just four changes to the one that con­tested the World Cup, an in­di­ca­tion that he is happy to not only take practi- cally the same group to the She Be­lieves Cup but also into the fi­nal stages of Euro 2017 qual­i­fi­ca­tion.

De­vel­oped

“We’ve got a group mov­ing for­ward of 30 to 32 play­ers who are gen­uinely com­pet­ing for a place in the squad,” said the head coach.

“I’m re­ally pleased with the way the play­ers have de­vel­oped, in­di­vid­u­ally as well as a team, in the two years since I took charge.

“I had to make some tough calls to choose this squad and it will be the same for our Euro qual­i­fiers.

“But that’s what you want as a coach.

“This year is mainly about get­ting through to the Euro fi­nals, but right now our fo­cus is purely on the She Be­lieves Cup.

“We’ll em­brace it, give it a right good go and make sure that we come out of the tour­na­ment a bet­ter group and ready to kick on into Euro qual­i­fy­ing.”

PIC­TURE: The FA

FO­CUS: Lionesses coach Mark Samp­son HUR­DLER: Iso­bel Chrs­tiansen of Eng­land skips a slid­ing tackle

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