By Andrew Gibney.
In front of a packed media room on Monday, England head coach Mark Sampson revealed his 23-player squad for the upcoming World Cup. Set against the backdrop of the lavish Canada House in London, rather than just reading out a list, each player was there in person to face the media scrum.
Rather than the names that will be on the plane for Canada, as with any squad, the real talking points came from who was omitted from the selection. Goalkeepers Siobhan Chamberlain, Karen Bardsley, and Carly Telford were probably the easiest part of his squad to pick. The challenge will come when Sampson has to pick who will be his No1.
All three keepers have started games recently, Telford has been superb for Notts County and Chamberlain has impressed for Arsenal. Manchester City’s Bardsley has missed most of the Women’s Super League season so far after picking up a three-game suspension in the opening game against Birmingham.
City’s Demi Stokes was part of the England squad when they took on China at the Academy Stadium. Although she didn’t play that evening, she has been part of the set-up for the past 12 months, and will be disappointed to miss out.
Sampson made it clear before he revealed his team that flexibility was crucial to his decisions. Claire Rafferty did start against China, and the Chelsea defender looks to be the first choice, with Alex Greenwood of Notts County the second option.
Greenwood has a wonderful left foot and although she played in the centre against China, she plays as a full-back for her club. The only criticism of the two players would be that Stokes would provide the level of pace that can make a huge difference at international level.
Another player disappointed to miss a place in the squad will be Liverpool’s two-time WSL champion Gemma Bonner. The defence has an average age of just over 27 years old, and she would have added a bit more of a youthful touch at centre-back.
There is little doubt that the England midfield is stacked with talent and players that can cover a number of roles, but the decision of Sampson to leave Chelsea’s Gemma Davison at home is a strange one. Her last cap was against Sweden in August 2014, but her form this season as Blues have shot to the top of the WSL has been nothing short of phenomenal.
With five goals in all competitions, only Notts County’s Ellen White has scored more from players in WSL1. Chelsea team-mates Ji So-Yun and Eni Aluko will be at the World Cup, but combined they still haven’t scored more than the 27-year-old.
Davison is a unique player, someone who can play down the wings with pace, take on her opponents with her quick footwork, either create chances for herself or make space for others. With her contributions, Chelsea have qualified for the FA Cup Final and are still unbeaten in the WSL – whereas Jade Moore and Jo Potter have been struggling with Birmingham City who are languishing without a win down in seventh place.
In attack there has to be questions over the exclusion of Jess Clarke, Natasha Dowie and Nikita Parris, especially with Toni Duggan struggling since her return from knee surgery. It wasn’t until Sunday that she scored her first WSL goal of the season.
Parris especially, with her five goals for Manchester City, will wonder what she will have to do to win a place in Sampson’s squad. Reputation is one element, but with such a short season, form has to play a huge role in who makes the final selection.
These decisions, plus the number of players in the squad who are recovering from long-term injuries leaves some doubts around the announcement. On paper, it is a very strong team, but when you scratch beyond the surface there are some potential problems ahead for the Lionesses in Canada.
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