Pain for Spain? English hopes high as bat­tle is re­joined at Women’s Euros

Man­ager pre­pares squad for un­der­hand tac­tics England can se­cure place in last eight with vic­tory

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Front Page - Luke Ed­wards in Breda

Mark Samp­son, the England man­ager, has ac­cused Spain of tar­nish­ing their coun­try’s rep­u­ta­tion for foot­ball as he warned his play­ers to be wary of their op­po­si­tion’s mas­tery of the dark arts.

Samp­son’s com­ments could be seen as in­flam­ma­tory, but they were very de­lib­er­ate. Hav­ing thrashed Scot­land in their open­ing game in Group D, Spain will look to frus­trate England in a va­ri­ety of dif­fer­ent ways and he needs his team to con­trol their emo­tions.

Spain knocked England out of the Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship four years ago and are dan­ger­ous op­po­nents, par­tic­u­larly if they can set the pace of the game.

Samp­son, though, be­lieves they are likely to use un­der­hand meth­ods to do so, not only to keep stop­ping the game, but also to get un­der the skin of England’s play­ers in the hope of pro­vok­ing a costly re­ac­tion.

“Spain are one of those teams that, on the one hand, they’re the foot­ball purists’ dream,” said Samp­son, who knows his side will guar­an­tee a place in the quar­ter-fi­nals if they can beat a Spain side that is ranked eight places be­low them.

“On the other hand, they’re in­cred­i­bly frus­trat­ing. No one would ar­gue that their tippy-tappy foot­ball, their pos­ses­sion-based style, is pleas­ing on the eye. If that was just the one el­e­ment of their game, I think you’d be re­ally happy to go and watch the team.

“But one of the rea­sons, I think, peo­ple find it hard to fall in love with the Span­ish team is be­cause they’ve got the other bit as well, the indis­ci­pline, the feign­ing in­jury, the get­ting around the ref­eree.

“So, we’re aware of the Span­ish team in terms of both those qual­i­ties and we’ll have to be ready for the po­ten­tial pos­ses­sion game they’ll try and bring to the game – but also those dark arts that aren’t the nicest part. You have to man­age that side of it.”

England teams have of­ten strug­gled to do so at ma­jor tour­na­ments, not just in the women’s game, but also the men’s. Spain will look to dis­rupt England’s at­tack­ing mo­men­tum, while also look­ing to starve them of pos­ses­sion, caus­ing frus­tra­tion and ir­ri­ta­tion to es­ca­late.

Samp­son, though, in­sisted it is some- thing they have spo­ken about reg­u­larly in the build-up to the Euros and he is con­fi­dent his play­ers will not be sucked into a drain­ing emo­tional bat­tle with Spain.

“It’s about mak­ing ra­tio­nal de­ci­sions on the field,” he added. “It can’t be that you just choose not to re­act, but you want to choose your re­ac­tion.

“When you make a mis­take, emo­tion­ally, is when you act with­out think­ing. We’ve got to make sure that we per­form emo­tion­ally, but that we al­ways have that clar­ity of thought in the pres­surised mo­ment.

“It’s a shame [about Spain] be­cause for foot­ball purists, if it was just that one half of the team, they’d be the team that ev­ery­one wants to watch.

“But the rea­son peo­ple find it dif­fi­cult to get on the band­wagon is be­cause they have that other side of it that can frus­trate, not just the op­po­nents, but the sup­port­ers as well.

“I don’t know if it’s part of their foot­ball cul­ture. A lot of the Span­ish girls have come over and played in our com­pe­ti­tion and we ob­vi­ously played them in Oc­to­ber, it’s some­thing from the out­side you might not got a per­cep­tion of, but when you’re in the mid­dle – in the heart of it – it sud­denly all be­comes very clear.

“It’s al­ways based on the flow of the game. If the Span­ish team are get­ting it their way and they’re con­trol­ling the ball, the sun’s out and its pass and move and pass move and not many shots.

“But if it’s the other way around, and they’re fac­ing their own goal or chas­ing a bit more, they’re hav­ing to com­pete for pos­ses­sion, then you start to see this other side of the game.

“Like I say, it’s a shame, but it’s some­thing you’ve got to deal with and man- age, both the of­fi­cials and the play­ers. In these ma­jor tour­na­ments, it is about mak­ing good de­ci­sions and ex­e­cut­ing un­der pres­sure.”

England have al­ready picked up two yel­low cards, with ar­guably their most com­bat­ive play­ers, Steph Houghton and Jill Scott, one more book­ing away from a sus­pen­sion. Given Spain’s tac­tics, more book­ings are likely tonight, although Samp­son in­sisted he will not be ask­ing any of his play­ers to change their style of play by pulling out of a tackle.

“We just want to stay clear of the silly book­ings,” ex­plained Samp­son. “But if both Jill or Steph pick up an­other book­ing on Sun­day night and we win the game, that’s all that mat­ters. We’ve got a squad of 23 and I’m con­fi­dent in every sin­gle one of them, which is what you need to have in a tour­na­ment.”

On the run: England for­ward Toni Dug­gan (left) trains with her team-mates in Utrecht yes­ter­day ahead of their Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship tie against Spain this evening

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