By Andrew Gibney.
England’s semi-final defeat to holders Japan was filled with mixed emotions on both sides of the Atlantic as around 2.4million UK viewers tuned in during the early hours. After a heartbreaking end to a terrific tournament, Mark Sampson’s team must lift themselves for the third-place play-off.
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There was an extreme swell of pride towards the Lionesses, but the devastation was there to see on the faces of the players, bravely facing interviews in the aftermath of their last-gasp 2-1 defeat to Japan in Edmonton.
The play-off for third place against Germany may been seen as something of a dead rubber, but for Mark Sampson and his squad of 23, it should still be a huge matter of importance and perhaps England’s best chance to show just how far they have come as a team.
Back in November, 45,000 fans turned up to watch England play their first international at the new Wembley stadium, but joy quickly turned to concern. Jordan Nobbs hit the crossbar in the opening moments, but two goals from the Germans had England on the ropes after just 12 minutes.
Celia Sasic is the current top scorer at the 2015 Fifa Women’s World Cup and the Frankfurt striker scored twice that day in Germany’s 3-0 win. She will again be a huge threat to the England defence, but from the performances that Sampson’s side have put in during this tournament, they should not go into this game in any way fearful of a similar result.
It will take a gargantuan effort from the Lionesses to claim a third-place finish, and they will have to play as well, if not better, than they did against Japan.
England worked extremely hard on Wednesday to press the Japanese defence and midfield when they were in possession. Although Japan still kept the ball, they were not able to hit their passing stride and only on a few occasions did they pick England apart with the movement and sharp passing.
Germany, if you press them, will give the ball away in the midfield. One criticism towards Sasic in their semi-final defeat to the United States, was that she failed to hold the ball up with any consistency. Quite a few of Germany’s attacks fell apart due to the pressure the US defence put on the striker.
With Steph Houghton and Laura Bassett putting in a number of key performances so far in Canada, they will be confident of shutting Sasic down. One of the themes of this World Cup is the want for England to keep hold of the bar a little better, and it will again be important against Germany. When they steal the ball, they look to break forward with pace and are quicker and more direct than the Japanese.
Keep the ball better and hit Germany down the flanks, and England will have an opportunity to cause Silvia Neid’s side more problems than they did at Wembley. Regardless of who Sampson starts in attack, they will be willing to run down the channels and stretch the defence.
Look for Karen Carney and Jill Scott to play in between the lines and ask questions of the German defence, perhaps utilise the width that someone like Alex Greenwood can provide from full-back and look to hit them where they are weakest.
Nothing will get the English public behind any football team like beating the Germans at a World Cup. The Lionesses have not managed it in 20 previous attempts. No better time than the present.
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