England are optimistic a fourth Women’s World Cup campaign can be their most successful yet, as Mark Sampson’s team made sure of qualification in ruthless fashion in Cardiff.
A 4-0 victory over Wales means England have booked their place at Canada 2015 with a game to spare. They will head to Montenegro next month aiming to complete a perfect 10 out of 10 record after nine straight wins.
With England needing just a point at the Cardiff City Stadium, Karen Carney’s early goal set up the visitors for a comfortable night against opponents who could still join them in Canada next year through the play-offs.
Managed by a Welshman in 31-year-old former Swansea City centre of excellence head Sampson, England look a different team from the side easily picked apart at last summer’s European Championship, when they managed one point from three games.
Lianne Sanderson has been an early beneficiary of the new era, having retired from international football four years ago, at 22, when her relationship with the then manager Hope Powell broke down.
Sampson, appointed in December after the team won their first four qualifiers under caretaker Brent Hills, summoned the Boston Breakers striker across the Atlantic.
England set up with three strikers in Sanderson, Eni Aluko and Toni Duggan, and the inventive Carney playing just behind as she won a 98th cap. Carney’s goal in the 16th minute was ostensibly a fluke, her curling free-kick from the left being missed by Aluko and deceiving goalkeeper Nicola Davies at the far post.
England’s second came in the 39th minute when Aluko produced an explosive finish, lashing the ball across Davies from a throw-in.
It was 3-0 by the 44th minute as centre-back Laura Bassett prodded home a left-wing corner from Carney. Sanderson punished shaky defending a minute later when she darted into space to head in right-back Alex Scott’s pacy cross for the fourth.
“It’s a special moment,” Sampson said. “We wanted to come here and do the job and I thought for spells in the first half we were outstanding. We’re excited by the way we’re playing, but there’s lots more to come from this group.”