Alex Scott World Cup 2014 column: 'I know what it is like to lose the first game in a tournament'

The Arsenal and England Ladies player offers a player's perspective

There are weeks of anticipation and hype surrounding the first game of a tournament, then suddenly it is over and the second match is rushing towards you. For England’s men, Italy is gone and all attention now turns to Uruguay, which is a must-win match and every bit of detail needs to be covered.

The first thing the guys have to do is get their minds right, which is not easy having lost the opening game. After a match I always find it hard to sleep; my body wants to sleep but my mind will not allow me. You find yourself replaying every moment of the game over and over in your head, going through different circumstances and outcomes.

It is a human tendency to dwell on the bad things. Players will easily be able to tell you five things they did wrong before they can tell you five things they did really well.

Most players in the modern game will have done work with a psychologist, and at this stage in the tournament that work can be crucial. You have to eradicate the negative thinking, build on the positives.

Of course, there are areas that may need tweaking, but from watching the England game, there were many positives. This is what should be the base and the focus. You learn from the past (the Italy game), but staying in the here-and-now is crucial.

 

Psychologists always say “control the controllables”, which is so true. You cannot control what starting XI Uruguay are going to put out, whether Luis Suarez is going to be fit or not. You cannot control the ability of the referee, or the quality of the pitch.

These things are out of your control, so why let it take up any of your energy? What you can control is yourself. Have you prepared the best you can? If X or Y plays do I know their strengths and weakness? Am I hydrated the best I can be? Can I be the best in my role for the team? These are the things to concentrate on.

Losing is the worst feeling in the world. You feel empty and drained. Looking at some of the guys’ faces walking off the pitch in Manaus you could see that they had done everything asked of them.

Losing the first game in a tournament is tough. It puts so much pressure on you going into that second match. It happened to us at the 2009 European Championships. Like the guys, we faced Italy in our opening game. Not only did we lose 2-1, Casey Stoney was sent off. It was devastating because we felt it was unfair and we deserved to get something out of the game.

Daniel Sturridge speaks to the press alongside Danny Welbeck Daniel Sturridge speaks to the press alongside Danny Welbeck  

When you feel you have a good team mentality and a good team spirit, you do not stay deflated for long. You instantly look to the next game with the belief that you can win and get out of the group. I find as a player when I lose a game I want the next one to come as quickly as possible.

The pressure on us to win the next game against Russia was massive, but despite the Italy defeat there was this strong sense of belief about us as team. There was a buzz about us, it felt right. Sometimes you can sense as a team that you can do it. We won, and got out of the group.

Four years later we again lost our first European Championship game, but this time we drew the next match and did not make it out of the group. What was the difference? I would have to say that apart from form, injuries etc, the togetherness was not there. We had a better group of players and the right balance, but we were not the best cohesive group. There was not that same buzz or belief about us.

Talking with Mark Sampson, our head coach, this week while we are away playing World Cup qualifiers, he reckons that sometimes it’s not always who has the best team on paper – every team will have great players – but it’s about having a group who you can get the best out of and creating the right atmosphere. That will allow the players to feel free, to play without pressure and play for their team-mates, as well as playing for themselves and to enjoy it.

We watched the men’s Italy game while in Minsk after beating Belarus on Saturday in the first leg of a qualifying double-header. The second tie is against Ukraine tomorrow and we fly into Lviv ahead of training there today. A win will put us in a very strong position to qualify automatically for the finals in Canada next year. We’ll be leaving Lviv straight after we play, so will actually miss the guys’ game against Uruguay, which is gutting. We will be hoping that when we land in the early hours of Friday we will hear they got the three points.

I’m optimistic. Having met the players before they went to Brazil, and watched them out there, I feel Roy Hodgson’s players believe in themselves and believe they can win the next game. In 2009 we went on to reach our first major championship final having lost that game against Italy, so let’s hope that the same happens for the boys.

Alex Scott plays for Arsenal Ladies. She has won 113 England caps and competed in the Women’s World Cups of 2007 and 2011.

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