By Andrew Gibney.
Immediately after England’s 1-0 defeat to France in the FIFA Women’s World Cup, Coach Mark Sampson declared it had been “an excellent England performance,” and on some levels, he has a valid point.
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Tuesday’s match was always going to be a tricky introduction to the competition, but now it is time for England to push forward against Mexico and Colombia, and show that this new pride has progressed in the last four years.
Conditions in Moncton were far from perfect; driving wind and rain made it hard for the England midfield to provide Eniola Aluko with the type of service that she could chase down the channels, and the Chelsea striker cut a lonely figure for the majority of the game.
Sampson will be delighted with the way his 4-1-4-1 formation frustrated and contained the much-fancied France side. Apart from Laura Bassett’s error that led to Eugenie Le Sommer’s stunning 29th minute winner, Karen Bardsley was rarely troubled in the England net.
England’s main problem was their lack of a visible attacking threat. Perhaps they showed the French too much respect and a better balance between attack and defence could have been found, but the game plan was to keep things tight, which has to change in the next group game.
Four years ago in Germany, England’s next opponents in Group F, Mexico, held Hope Powell’s side to a 1-1 draw. Six of the players that featured against France on Tuesday played that day, making Saturday a huge opportunity to show how far England have come since the last World Cup.
Mexico were held to a draw against Colombia in Group F’s second game, in what was a very hard-fought, fast-paced and unpredictable battle in Moncton. Leonardo Cuellar’s side lined up playing 4-4-2, but the midfield quartet showed great movement and flexibility to interchange positions and provide the ammunition for their two powerful forwards.
Colombia had never beaten Mexico, and neither side had ever won a game at a World Cup, so it was expected that Mexico would start strong and take the game to the South Americans. On Saturday, it is England who’ll need to be the aggressors.
Ranked sixth in the FIFA World Rankings, the Lionesses need to demonstrate their dominance and push the tempo, imposing their will on Mexico. Sampson intentionally set up his team to be defensive in the opening game, and now the former Bristol Academy boss needs to show his ability to adapt.
Fran Kirby came on for Alex Scott late in the second half, and her ability to find space in between the lines and stretch defences could be an ideal way to trouble Mexico and give Aluko more support.
In their last friendly on British shores, England played with a 4-4-2 diamond against China, and they took the game to the Asian side, going 2-0 up within 10 minutes. That is the type of performance England need to show on Saturday.
Colombia were able to show Mexico’s vulnerability from quick movement and balls in behind the full-backs; so the power, pace and movement of Lianne Sanderson or Toni Duggan alongside Aluko, with Kirby providing support from deep, would be the perfect way take on Las Tricolores.
Unlike against France, there is no need to play Katie Chapman with Fara Williams to protect the defence. Sampson has Jill Scott and Jordan Nobbs that can play in front of Williams, making England more dynamic and attack-minded, but still providing a balanced approach.
France was a test of discipline and organisation. Now it is time to let the other teams worry about what England can do to them.
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