Some people may think there is a dark cloud over the England camp, having lost our opening game of the World Cup. No team ever likes losing, even if it is against a team ranked third in the world that possesses some of the best players in the world.
We had a meticulous game plan set out by Mark Sampson, our manager, to nullify France’s key players, the likes of Louisa Nécib, who is ranked as one of the best in the world. We had tactics to help us deal with the fastest player in women’s football, Élodie Thomis. Eugénie Le Sommer was another target player to stop.
Two of those players were kept quiet; unfortunately, we put ourselves under pressure when we failed to clear the ball and Le Sommer scored a great 20-yard strike. That aside, we executed the game plan asked of us and it was a great defensive performance.
However, we still lost and there has been criticism of the way we played. As professionals we don’t need to be told when we have, or have not, been good enough. We recognise that ourselves and we know that to win games and World Cups you need more than we showed.
The good thing is we have more. Just like the 2.5 million people who tuned in back home on Tuesday night, we know we are a team that can attack, that can score goals and have weapons that were not seen or maybe used in the French game. We are planning for seven games, not just the one, and what you saw against the French will be very different to what you will see against Mexico tonight and in our last group game, against Colombia next week.
Mark is very strategic and has a deliberate plan for every game and every eventuality. He has always stated the importance of all 23 players and the flexibility of knowing that each one can do a job. For him it has never been about having a set starting XI, but about a game plan for each match and what XI will execute it best.
Having reflected on the game, I certainly am not walking around our hotel all doom and gloom. We have two more games to play and I am confident that we will progress out of this group and reach the targets set out for us.
Some people watching on TV and seeing photos in the papers will have been shocked at the injury Laura Bassett suffered when a stray French elbow caught her in the face. Laura’s a tough girl and she got straight up and played on but she’s been left with a colourful bruise. Laura, though, is the sort who will walk around with a black eye unconcerned how it looks. She’s been bossing it in the hotel.
I know the player involved, Camille Abily, well as we played against each other in America and I was surprised when it happened because it is not like her. But Camille was texting me soon after the game asking me to pass on her apologies to Laura and checking she was OK, which showed what she is really like.
That incident, and some of the tackles in the tournament, might surprise some people watching who may have not realised how physical the women’s game is. They should not have been. We’re all very competitive and want to win as much as the men do.
It does mean you need to be strong enough to compete physically, so we all have a weights programme. There is a misconception among some girls that weights will make you look like Arnie Schwarzenegger but they don’t have to. I can squat press more than my body weight and I hope no one thinks I’m all muscly. With the speed work we do as well it adds to your power, which you need to compete in the physical duels.
With matches at this level being physically demanding, one of the biggest factors in being successful is how quickly a team can recover and be ready to go again for the next match. So for us, this has meant a lot of sitting in ice baths (lovely!), sitting in recovery pumps, and lots of sports massages (unfortunately, not the gentle pampering type of massage you might find at your local spa). There have also been light training sessions and going over tactics in the classroom to make sure we know exactly what to do against our next opponents.
In between games we do get some down time to switch off from football. I managed to get out to Moncton Zoo on my afternoon off. Just being able to relax and take in something other than football keeps your brain switched on and connected with real life. Sometimes being away for so long can disconnect you from the world and you become immersed in your own little bubble.
Some players have family and friends over here, so it’s nice for them to spend the time we have off with them. For the rest of us that haven’t, it’s about spending the time you have off wisely, ready to recharge your brain mentally for the next task ahead.
This brings me on to Moncton itself… it is very different! It has small-town charm, with a slower pace of life compared to London. It is a town where everyone knows each other. There is one main high street of shops and restaurants, literally called Main Street. If you ever wanted to escape the world, and avoid people, then you definitely could not in this place, because no matter where you walk or whatever place you go in, every other person will be there too... ha. That aside, it lives up to its billing as being one of the friendliest places.
We have one more game here in Moncton then it’s off to Montreal for our last group game. Our immediate fate depends on how we perform against Mexico and Colombia. I am confident we can get six points and a place in the knockout phase. Tournaments are about more than the first game. In the 2010 men’s World Cup, Spain lost their opening game to Switzerland. At Italia ’90 Argentina were stunned by Cameroon. Both those teams went on to the final, with Spain lifting the trophy.
In our own sport, last season Manchester City lost their first game in the group stage of the Continental Cup but went on to win the final, beating my Arsenal team.
Looking at those examples, and putting our opening match in context, those clouds are lifting and the sun is coming out, just as it is in Moncton as I write.
The bigger picture for us has always been to progress out of the group. It doesn’t matter how or in what position. After that all things are possible. That dream I dared to dream is not over yet!Reuse content