By Andrew Gibney.
When the referee signalled the end of the first half during England’s Round of 16 tie against Norway on Monday, it wasn’t looking good for the Lionesses. Although they were strong defensively, the lack of attacking intent was disappointing and frustrating. However, Mark Sampson was playing the long game and despite going 1-0 down, they showed character and belief to win their first-ever knockout game at the Fifa Women’s World Cup.
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It was a defensive display similar to the opening game against France, but this time Sampson learned from that match and pushed forward in the last 30 minutes to charge past Norway into the quarter-finals with a 2-1 victory.
Taking on the hosts Canada in Vancouver on Saturday, England need to adopt the same gameplan to have a chance of success.
John Herdman’s side haven’t overly impressed on their way to the last eight, but with a 50,000 partisan fans filling BC Place Stadium, it is important that England do their best to frustrate and give the crowd reasons to become anxious.
It showed during the 1-0 wins over China and Switzerland that if you don’t let the Canucks get an early goal, they begin to play long balls and quickly look to find Christine Sinclair with the final ball without patiently building up the play.
Canada will look to start quickly and get the early goal; the key to England’s success will be not conceding in the opening 20 minutes of the game. The stark reality is that England don’t have the players and the ability to control a game from the opening moments without leaving gaps at the back, and giving their opponents an opportunity to come at them.
Rather than setting yourself up for a fall, you have to play to your strengths and for England that means relying on fitness, mental strength and knowing they have the ability to take the game to most teams when fatigue starts to kick in.
Just like against Norway, use either Toni Duggan or Eni Aluko to run the channels, give the defence someone to chase and try and win set-pieces. England then has players like Jodie Taylor or Lianne Sanderson on the bench that can come on and expose tired legs.
Norway enjoyed the majority of possession on Monday, but with England’s defence standing strong, they struggled to find a way past Steph Houghton & Co and in the second half they looked void of ideas. Once England equalised, there was only one team that looked to have the mentality and physical capability to push on for the second goal.
The Canadians set up in a similar 4-3-3 shape to Norway. Just like Even Pellerud’s side did with Ada Hegerberg, Canada will look to the strength of Sinclair in the final third, but England have players that can match her. In their defence, Lauren Sesselmann has a mistake in her; pressure on the backline will be crucial.
In the final friendly game before the World Cup, England lost 1-0 to Canada in Hamilton, but apart from Sophie Schmidt’s excellent first-half strike, there was nothing that the hosts showed that would give Sampson’s team too much cause for concern.
England need to keep to their gameplan to be successful in Vancouver. They are building an identity under the Welsh manager, if they stick to that and don’t pretend to be something that they are not, they have a great chance of going far. And not just this summer but over the next few years.
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