The togetherness of the England squad will be key to them going all the way at the Women’s World Cup finals, says the experienced Liverpool midfielder Fara Williams. The situation is in stark contrast to the disarray in the squad two years ago which led to Hope Powell losing her job as head coach.
This time, as England head into Saturday’s quarter-final against the hosts Canada in Vancouver, Williams – nicknamed by team-mates the “puppet master” for the way she pulls the tactical strings – is convinced that the Team England ethic will prevail.
There was plenty of evidence to support that view when England reached the last eight thanks to their first-ever win in the knockout stages of the World Cup, recovering from going a goal behind to beat Norway 2-1 in Ottawa in the last 16.
“To come back from 1-0 down showed not just our character but how together our group is,” said Williams. “The support from our bench was unbelievable. Whoever is on the pitch, everyone on the bench is right behind us all the way. It’s such a nice thing to have all 23 people together and behind each other. It’s great to know you’ve got that support and it just shows what good shape we’re in. The spirit is fantastic.”
The bonding that is keeping this England squad together here in Canada is in contrast to the problems evident during the 2013 European Championship finals in Sweden, where a poor showing – Powell’s team came home after collecting just one point at the group stage – was followed by recriminations all round and the head coach losing her job.
Powell’s replacement, Mark Sampson, appointed in December 2013, has tried to rebuild the harmony that Powell’s squads used to enjoy and seems to have succeeded to the point where a siege mentality has been developed, the players closing ranks whenever doubts are cast about them.
“If we listened to everyone outside our circle,” said Williams, 31, “there’s going to be a problem. It happened to us in Sweden at Euro 2013 – we listened too much to the people outside, to the media as well; there was too much bad criticism.
“We’ve also had criticism here at this tournament, but I think this is the best England team you’ve seen for a long while. We’re playing fantastically well. We know how to defend, we know how to ride storms, and we can finish off teams.”
England beat Mexico and Colombia, following the defeat by France, in their group and then saw off Norway with Williams – one of only three players who have started all four games to date – acting as the team’s axis. She has 144 caps for her country.
“Fara’s the anchor of our team, the rock, the one that pulls the strings – she’s the puppet master,” said the Manchester City full-back Lucy Bronze, who is rooming with Williams during the tournament.
“What Fara says, you have to do,” added Bronze, “because she’s speaking with knowledge and from experience. She’s got all those caps, she’s scored in three World Cups and she’s definitely our most influential player, our best player.”
Williams, the former Chelsea, Charlton Athletic and Everton midfielder, will be aiming once again to run the show when England face Canada in Vancouver, which is the base for the tournament hosts and their English manager, John Herdman. The city will provide the Canucks with massive support at a packed BC Place Stadium on Saturday.
“They’re a fantastic team and their organisation is fantastic,” acknowledged Williams, “but the girls are excited looking ahead to the match. We knew going into the game against Norway who our quarter-final opponents would be if we won, and what better motivation is there than to play the host nation?
“To play against them in front of 55,000 fans at the World Cup will be incredible. It’s certainly motivating. All the girls are buzzing, everyone’s looking forward to the game and we are all feeling really positive.”