It has been quite a week for Eniola Aluko. On Sunday, at the KC Stadium, she watched her brother, Sone Aluko, play for Hull City as they were relegated from the Premier League. On Monday she flew with the England squad to Canada ahead of next month’s Women’s World Cup in the country. On Friday she hopes to play in England’s final warm-up match, against the hosts in Hamilton.
Aluko’s target is to maintain her fine form and cement a place in the starting line-up against France when England open their campaign on June 9. At 28, with the experience of two World Cups behind her, this is her time to shine. England are in the second rank of contenders but upsets in this maturing sport are very possible.
The Chelsea striker goes into the finals in a similar situation to Wayne Rooney with the men last summer. Like Rooney she was the team’s leading scorer in qualifying (with 13 goals), but, like Rooney then, is yet to score in the finals despite two previous tournaments. Rooney, of course, broke his duck in Brazil, Aluko aims to follow suit.
“I hope the pattern will continue,” she said. “You want to score at World Cups. Hopefully I can repeat what Rooney did. He scored and I think he was our best player. It was a disappointing team performance but he really took on that pressure and performed well.”
In 2007, in China, Aluko was wide-eyed and just pleased to be at a World Cup. Four years later, in Germany, she struggled to cope with the expectation and was dropped. This time she believes it will be different with that experience enabling her to deal with a pressure that is beginning to build. England, currently based in Toronto, have already been exposed to what Aluko calls ‘a World Cup vibe with lots of commercials on TV’.
She added: “I am as relaxed as I have ever been for a major tournament. It is for me about using that experience so I am not nervous, and making sure I perform. I have got all those nerves out of the way in previous tournaments and have come out here to enjoy it.
“I am at the peak of my career and have to be confident that this is where I am meant to be, that I’m good enough to play for England. I’m 90 caps in. All the hard work, all the sacrifices, prepares you for these moments and I can just go out there with no fear.”
Being selected for Friday night’s team, she added, is no guarantee of starting against France as coach Mark Sampson “has always been a manager that picks teams for a specific game and the players know that.”
Nevertheless, given the competition up front - Natasha Dowie and Jess Clarke have not even made the squad - Aluko would relish this chance to stake her claim.
“It will be great to play in front of a sell-out crowd against the home nation, but there have been quite a few changes in the squad in the last six-eight months with players who had been integral in qualifying not making the squad, so it is important to take each game and training session as it comes.”
Aluko’s goals have helped Chelsea to the top of the Women’s Super League and into the Women’s FA Cup final and she added: “You need confidence coming into a World Cup and my form at Chelsea and in qualifying have all been confidence-building. It is a matter of staying confident in myself so I can play with freedom.”
It has been a different story for her brother but Eniola is sure Sone can bounce back from his disappointment. “It was tough [on Sunday], but these downs in your career only make you come back stronger. I’m sure that will be the case for him.
“Sone is now having a break after quite a stressful season, then hopefully he will be out here for the knock-out stages. He has shown me a lot of support, even in times when things have not been going well for him he has always been supportive for me.”
England beat Canada 1-0 in March in the Cyprus Cup, and 2-0 in the same competition the previous year, Lianne Sanderson scoring all three goals, but Canada beat GB in the quarter-finals of the 2012 Olympics. Managed by Englishman John Herdman they could well meet England at the quarter-final stage, which adds significance to the match.
Kick-off Midnight BST Friday.
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