Mark Sampson, the England manager, has gone the extra mile – or, to be exact, his international opposition analyst David Gough has – in order to prepare for the vital Women’s World Cup group game against Colombia at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium.
A draw with Las Cafeteras, whom England have never played before, would take Sampson’s team through to the knockout stages, while victory could result in them topping the group, depending on France’s game with Mexico in Ottawa.
England’s research into their opponents has been meticulous and Sampson said: “The key for us about Colombia is that we actually know a lot about them. It’s very difficult to get footage of teams like theirs, so Dave went out there to watch them live six times.
“All he had was a camera phone, but he came back with a pile of info that he’s portrayed to us and now we’ve got footage of the first two games [here] and been able to watch them – and we’ve seen nothing different from them in the tournament.
“So we’re even more clear now about what we need to do to break down that deep block of theirs, to work around the centre-back who sits in front of the back four and to deal with their threat on the counter-attack.”
Colombia, 22 places below England and a further three behind France at 28th in the world rankings, showed what a threat they can be when producing the shock of the tournament to date, a 2-0 win against Les Bleues on Saturday putting them top of Group F ahead of the final group games.
“I think we’ve got to put the world rankings to one side,” noted Sampson, whose team followed their 1-0 opening defeat by France with a 2-1 win against Mexico. “I prefer to judge Colombia on drawing with Mexico and beating France. OK, there are some weaknesses, but there’s a lot of areas of their team we’ve got to be very aware of.”
As he prepares for a game in which defeat could mean elimination from the tournament, Sampson must decide whether or not to risk players who arrived in Canada with injury problems but who he says are now fully fit.
Neither the first-choice striker Jodie Taylor nor the vice-captain Jordan Nobbs has yet had any game time, while the key winger Karen Carney has played just 24 minutes – albeit crucially in the win over Mexico.
Other players have reported problems, sore backs in particular, after playing on the demanding artificial surfaces that have been installed at each of the competition’s six venues. “The medical team have been overworked trying to make sure our players are not just fit to play but as close to 100 per cent as possible for each game,” admitted Sampson.
“At the moment they’re doing a fantastic job, recovering players and making sure they’re in the best possible place to play the game we want to play, a game which requires physicality.
“Having to look at the impact of this kind of surface on players’ recoveries and certain joints and certain muscles, and to put procedures in place to make sure you’ve got ample time to recover, is something that every team has to deal with.
“We’ve got everybody fit and good to go now – Jodie and Jordan have been training full pelt and both of them are available for selection.”
England will start the game lying second in the group table, a point behind Colombia but ahead of France on goal difference. Whoever wins the group will have the bonus of remaining in Montreal for the round of 16 and, if successful, for both the quarter-final and semi-final ahead of the final on 5 July in Vancouver.
“We have to get the performance and the result right,” said Sampson, “then deal with the hand we’re dealt. The players are ready – they took the flak after the France game, they opened up to the pressure and raised the bar against Mexico. Now we’ve got to show our quality and push the bar again against Colombia.”
While the manager refuses to look any further than the next game, the players would love to finish as group winners and stay put. The Manchester City striker Toni Duggan said: “It would be great to make Montreal our home for the next couple of weeks. The less travelling you have to do in a tournament the better, especially in such a massive country as this.
“But whatever way we do it I just want to stay in the competition for as long as we possibly can and, hopefully, end up flying to Vancouver for the final. I’d definitely like to see other parts of Canada – but I’d bite your hand off if you offered me winning the group, staying in Montreal and then going to the final.”
Women’s round-up: Kiwi coach row
The New Zealand coach, Tony Readings, defended his decision not to shake the hand of China’s coach, Hao Wei, after their 2-2 draw that ended his side’s participation in the tournament.
Hao was sent to the stands for apparently interfering with Ria Percival as she tried to take a quick throw-in with her side pressing for a winner in Winnipeg. “It’s just something I don’t agree with,” Readings said of Hao’s actions.
Hosts Canada conceded a late equaliser to draw 1-1 against the Netherlands but still came top of Group A ahead of the Chinese. Germany beat Thailand 4-0 to win Group B on goal difference ahead of Norway, who beat Ivory Coast 3-1.Reuse content