It will be a proud, potentially celebratory, but also strange experience for Mark Sampson when his England women’s team play Wales in Cardiff on Thursday night. A point will secure England’s place in next year’s World Cup in Canada with a match to spare, victory will maintain a 100 per cent record in qualifying under Sampson. The England manager is, however, Welsh.
“We have been asking him which national anthem he’ll be singing,” said Alex Scott, England’s right-back. “He’s not told us yet. But while he was born in Wales we know his heart and passion is with us, and he also wants to get to the World Cup.”
England will be confident, having recently defeated the highly regarded Swedes 4-0 in Hartlepool, an eye-opening result even if it was, as Scott points out, in a friendly. “Going into that match we did not anticipate winning by four goals against one of the best sides in Europe. While the result is obviously good for confidence we have to beat teams like that in tournaments.”
England have won all eight qualifiers so far, scoring 38 goals and conceding one. This has been achieved against a backdrop of Sampson integrating new players (and recalling others who had been exiled by Hope Powell), and developing a more varied tactical approach.
Earlier in qualifying, England beat Wales 2-0 at The Den, but were held to a goalless first half. Victory was made easier after Wales’ captain Jess Fishlock suffered a broken hand. A footballing globetrotter, she will play while en route from her parent club Seattle Reign to next loan club Frankfurt (having previously played for Glasgow City and Melbourne Victory this year).
Only Wales can catch England, who are guaranteed at least second place in their group, which would earn a play-off. Wales are not, though, certain of coming second as Ukraine, who won in Belarus, could catch them. The two meet next month, probably in Kiev.
Wales v England, Cardiff City Stadium, Thursday 7.05pm. Tickets £5 (£2 conc). TV: BBC 3