Over the past couple of decades, England’s football hopes have usually floundered at the quarter-final stage. A succession of disappointments have usually ended in a penalty shoot-out here, a dramatic incident there (not-so-safe hands, Rooney off, Beckham’s foot). Tonight, England’s women – who themselves have stumbled in the last eight in the past two World Cups – have the chance to take the nation beyond that great psychological stumbling block.
Mark Sampson’s team have already made a little bit of history of their own in winning a knock-out tie. They face the host nation Canada in what is sure to be an emotion-charged night in Vancouver.
Canada will have the expectation of their own public on their backs. More than 50,000 people will create an atmosphere the England ladies have yet to experience in the FIFA Women’s World Cup, but since losing their opening game, momentum and confidence has been building and so, too, has public interest in the exploits of the “lionesses”. Players like Fran Kirby, Karen Bardsley and Claire Rafferty are in danger of becoming household names!
Canada are, allegedly, the most aggressive team in the competition. The card count, however – five in four games – is only marginally worse than England’s three cautions. But they have found goalscoring difficult. Canada have scored three in their four games and one of those was a debatable added-time penalty. England, by contrast, have now netted six in their four games, two in each successive match after their 0-1 defeat in the opening game against France.
Sampson has shown he’s a shrewd tactician. He’s juggle his resources to meet the requirements of each game. After the first two group games, he made wholesale changes, some forced by injuries, but some as part of his approach of picking teams for specific opponents. It has worked so far and 21 members of the squad have played some part during a match.
Sampson has been playing a mind game of two with England’s opponents in the past few days, claiming that the Canadians have benefitted from some dubious decisions in the competition. He also called for some protection from officials for his team: “I hope the match referee realises there’s 22 players and two teams on the pitch.”
He’s also had a little sideways dig at the Canadian Geordie manager, John Herdman, an extrovert who is renowned for taking a lot of time over his appearance. “He works in his own unique way and puts a team on the field that reflects him – although we’ve got to remember it’s the players who are the stars of the show.”
Herdman’s stars have not had wholesale backing from the Canadian media. Said Sampson: “There’s a huge opportunity to put even more pressure on this Canadian team. Our job is to turn up the notches on the cooker and make sure their players are feeling the heat.”
June 9: France Lost 0-1 in Moncton (11,686)
June 13: Mexico Won 2-1in Moncton (Kirby, Carney – 13,138)
June 17: Colombia Won 2-1 in Montreal (Carney, Williams – 13,682)
June 22: Norway Won 2-1 in Ottawa (Houghton, Bronze – 19,829)
Aluko 2, Bardsley 4, Bassett 3, Bronze 3, Carney 2+1, Chapman 2, Duggan 3+1, Greenwood 1+1, Houghton 4, Kirby 3+1, Moore 3+1, Nobbs 1, Potter 0+1, Rafferty 3, Sanderson 0+1, Scott A 2+1, Scott J 2+1, Stoney 1, Taylor 0+2, White 1, Williams 4.
Goals: Carney 2, Bronze 1, Houghton 1, Kirby 1, Williams 1 Total: 6
England and Canada know each other well. They met at the end of May in Hamilton with the Canadians winning 1-0. Prior to that, however, England won the past four meetings, with Canada failing to score in every game. They have met in the World Cup before – in 1995 when England beat the Canadians 3-2. The winners of this quarter-final will play holders Japan or Australia.