Why have to wait four years to have another chance to chant “IT’S COMING HOME” at every street corner? Or to drench yourself in beer every time England score? When Jodie Taylor grabs a scrappy last-minute winner in the opening group game, Lucy Bronze sends everyone wild with a free-kick in the sixth minute of the semi-final or Steph Houghton’s forehead becomes a national treasure? Why have to wait four years when the Lioness’ time is now?
The Women’s World Cup kicks off on Friday with 24 teams battling it out to win the eighth rendition of the tournament. Amongst those are England and Scotland with the former considered one of the favourites to emerge victorious in France. They stole (most of) our hearts when the fell short of a spot in the 2015 final as they lost out to Japan in extra-time. Still they managed to defy expectations and beat a strong German side in the third-place play-off.
Two years later and the standards were much higher, as was the anticipation and hope for some national pride on the pitch at the European Championships. The ladies didn’t fail to deliver such and an excitement it hadn’t before, but it was clear Mark Sampson’s side still had some way to go after suffering a heavy 3-0 knockout defeat to hosts and eventual winners, the Netherlands.
Another two years and a messy discrimination case against Sampson later and new manager Phil Neville and his hungry team finally feel they’re ready. They proved they have since attained Neville’s winning pedigree earlier this year when they won the SheBelieves Cup. Albeit a friendly tournament, they triumphed over the likes of France and the current world champions, USA, to bring home the trophy for the first time.
It’s no coincidence this new-found strength of the national team comes at a direct parallel to that of the its national leagues – the Women’s Super League (WSL) and the Women’s Premier League, which welcomed and was won by the reformed Manchester United Women in the season just past. Just as with the men, a sport’s rise in appeal is demonstrated by money – sponsors especially. And, in March, Barclays were named as the new title sponsor for the WSL in a multi-million-pound investment that will makes its way down the grassroots level in a bit to maintain growth. The core of the side from the last two competition remains intact, with some new, fresh faces ready and eager to prove themselves.
Here are the 23 that will be on the plane (even though they could probably get the ferry or Eurostar) to France:
Karen Bardsley (76 caps) – famously carried on playing despite breaking her leg in the Euro 2017 quarter-final win over France. Also a key figure to their 2015 successes, this could be the 34-year-old’s last chance at a major international trophy.
Carly Telford (16 caps) – kept former back-up and current Manchester United shot-stopper Siobhan Chamberlain out of the team.
Mary Earps (5 caps) – the youngest and least experienced of the three, Earps is also the only one to play her club football abroad with Wolfsburg in Germany.
Millie Bright (26 caps) – after growing up with severe asthma and having seemed destined for a career in show-jumping, the 25-year-old has been integral since making her debut, starting every game in their Euro 2017 run.
Lucy Bronze (67 caps) – regarded as the world’s best right-back, or the Cafu of the women’s game, former BBC women’s footballer of the year plays her trade for consecutive Champions League winners Lyon and will be crucial to any successes in the coming weeks.
Rachel Daly (21 caps) – boss Phil Neville has called the ‘Phil Neville’ of his squad due to her versatility and comfort playing from right-back to centre-forward, and we’d all like to have seen Phil Neville up-front under Sir Alex Ferguson, right?
Alex Greenwood (36 caps) – the current Manchester United captain is an assured set-piece specialist and can also do a job at centre half.
Steph Houghton (104 caps) – Captain for club and country, Houghton has been shown support for her off-pitch troubles with her husband Stephen Darby was diagnosed with motor neurone disease and will be looking to overcome another obstacle in France.
Abbie McManus (12 caps) – after surviving Manchester City’s complete relaunch in 2014 she has only recently decided to be the latest to join the revolution in the red half of the city.
Demi Stokes (50 caps) – overcame a recent injury scare the retain her place in the squad and probably as England’s starting left-back.
Leah Williamson (6 caps) – seen by many as Steph Houghton’s successor and is comfortable in many defensive formations.
Karen Carney (138 caps) – one of the most-experienced in the side and was the only member of the 2015 squad to be named in the world top 40.
Jade Moore (45 caps) – found she had two holes in her heart at the age of 16 but still fought to pursue her dream profession.
Jill Scott (134 caps) – a figurehead in the squad, not only for her experience and ability, but also her height.
Lucy Staniforth (7 caps) – plays to “fill the void” left by the death of older brother and former Sheffield Wednesday youngster Tom Staniforth in 2001.
Georgia Stanway (5 caps) – also capable of excelling up-front, the Manchester City playmaker is one of the country’s hottest talents and won the golden boot and last year’s U20 World Cup.
Keira Walsh (13 caps) – shone in the SheBelieves cup victory and is ‘still acclimatising’ to being asked for an autograph.
Toni Duggan (71 caps) – the former Manchester City forward has matured even further since becoming one of the key faces of women’s football and joining Barcelona in 2017.
Fran Kirby (37 caps) – broke the women’s national transfer record when Chelsea signed her from Reading, a mere £50,000.
Beth Mead (12 caps) – scored 77 in 78 games for Sunderland before joining Arsenal and too shone as she led the line in America earlier this year.
Nikita Parris (32 caps) – deployed both centrally and on the wing, Parris last season became the WSL’s all-time leading scorer when she grabbed her 37th.
Jodie Taylor (42 caps) – took all the headlines in 2017, grabbing the Euros golden boot although she may now find game time hard to come by with the breadth of talent included.
Ellen White (80 caps) – ‘Ells Bells’ is seen as the workhorse of the teams, always seen ruthlessly hunting down defenders to get her side on the front foot.
England get their campaign underway against home rivals Scotland in Nice on Sunday and will then face Argentina on June 14 and Japan on June 19 to complete the group.
There are 6 groups –
A: France, South Korea, Norway, Nigeria
B: Germany, China, Spain, South Africa
C: Australia, Italy, Brazil, Jamaica
D: England, Scotland, Argentina, Japan
E: Canada, Cameroon, New Zealand, Netherlands
F: USA, Thailand, Chile, Sweden
The knockout fixtures could fall as follows:
Round of 16: June 22-25
Quarter Finals: June 27-29
Semi Finals: July 2-3
Third-place play-off: July 6
Final: July 7
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