By Luke Sansom, fourth year Politics and French student
The left-field appointment of Phil Neville, the former Manchester United and Everton star, as head coach of the England women’s national team, incited widespread debate in January 2018.
Critics observed that Neville possessed neither any experience in the women’s game, nor as a head coach in the men’s game, yet was nonetheless preferred over several well-qualified candidates.
However, despite the debate off the field, England have performed admirably on the field in the months leading up to this summer’s World Cup, losing only 2 of their 15 fixtures under Neville’s tenure. Confidence is rightly high that the Lionesses can mount a serious challenge in France, having finished third in the 2015 World Cup. Their prospects were further boosted by an extremely impressive and victorious showing at the 2019 SheBelieves Cup.
In Neville’s first fixtures as head coach, the Lionesses performed admirably at the 2018 SheBelieves Cup, finishing second, but they went a step further this year in the 4th edition of the invitational tournament. The convincing manner of England’s victory will undoubtedly encourage both the playing squad and spectators.
As in previous years, 4 sides faced off in a round robin format, each playing 3 matches. This year however, Brazil and Japan lined up alongside ever presents England and the USA, replacing France and Germany. In their first clash of the competition, the Lionesses came from behind to see of Brazil in a 2-1 victory after Ellen White’s equaliser and Beth Mead’s spectacular long-range winner.
3 days later, England faced the top-ranked women’s side and reigning world champions, the USA, and performed superbly in a thrilling 2-2 draw. The Lionesses were perhaps unlucky not to win, having come from behind to lead 2-1 after goals from captain Steph Houghton and forward Nikita Parris.
They went into their final fixture against Japan knowing that victory by any margin would guarantee them the trophy and swept their opponents aside in a resounding 3-0 win. The impressive result further emphasised the Lionesses’ progress, defeating the side who had knocked them out in the semi-finals of the 2015 World Cup. Clinching silverware in the run-up to the World Cup with three strong performances will have impressed onlookers, and Neville was particularly pleased with the all-round efforts of his full squad, most of whom featured throughout the competition. The apparent strength in depth at the head coach’s disposal will certainly serve England well in France this summer.
Looking ahead to the 8th edition of the FIFA Women’s World Cup, the Lionesses will rightly rate their chances of success and are among the group of bookmakers’ favourites behind frontrunners, the USA. 24 nations will battle it out across 9 French host cities between 7 June and 7 July 2019. Drawn in Group D, England will open their campaign on June 9 against Scotland, who will feature in the World Cup for the first time. The Lionesses will then face Argentina on June 14 before clashing again with Japan on June 19 in their final fixture of the group stage. With confidence running high on the back of some superb results, Neville’s side will expect to top their group and at the very least, reach the latter stages of the tournament.
2019 represents probably England’s best ever shot at becoming world champions and their campaign will unquestionably capture the excitement of the general public. With a strong squad, blended with experience and talented youth, galvanised by a head coach enjoying great success in the job, the Lionesses will believe that they stand a good chance of lifting the World Cup on July 7 in Lyon.
Featured Image - Flickr / joshjdss
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