Women's World Cup 2015: Mark Sampson puts substance over style as England need points

England take on Mexico on Saturday night

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The Independent Football

Having proven they can suffocate, England’s women now have to show they can scintillate, or at least score. Restricting France to a handful of chances in their opening World Cup game on Tuesday was a creditable performance, even if the game-plan effectively surrendered any chance of scoring themselves. But today, against Mexico in the same Moncton stadium, England need to show the attacking side of their game.

Having also drawn a blank against Canada in their final warm-up, the Lionesses have managed one shot on target in their past two games. Indeed, after scoring 52 goals in ten qualifying matches the goals have dried up against better opposition with seven in eight subsequent matches against fellow finalists.

Jodie Taylor scored three of those in one game against Australia and Mark Sampson could do with his much-travelled, and arguably most potent striker today. However, the Portland Thorns striker underwent knee surgery six weeks ago and is understood to be struggling for match sharpness. Jordan Nobbs is also thought to have had a hamstring problem but Sampson said everyone was fit for selection.

There are other attacking options. Fran Kirby has scored heavily, albeit in Division Two of the FA Women’s Super League, and Chelsea’s Eni Aluko has also been in good domestic form.

The bigger issue is the midfield. If chances are not being created it hardly matters who is in attack. Nobbs (if fit) and Karen Carney should return to play on the wings with England switching to 4-4-2, possibly with a midfield diamond. One player unlikely to start, but who will still have something to celebrate, is ex-skipper Casey Stoney who is to be awarded the MBE in the Queen’s Honours List.

Fara Williams, who played in an unfamiliar holding role against France but will revert to a more customary central midfield role, said: “You don’t panic after one game. I’m sure it will change tactically for Mexico and hopefully I can get more of the ball.”

That is Sampson’s belief. “We are playing a good team,” he said. “At times we will have to make sure we are confident and resolute, but I am confident we will get more of the ball and be able to express ourselves.”

However, even with the women’s game in England hoping to attract new followers through this tournament the result is what matters, not the style. Echoing men’s goalkeeper Joe Hart’s comments, Sampson said: “If England were to come back with a winners’ medal that would be the biggest boost the women’s game could ever get.

“No one would care whether we played like Brazil or Chelsea. It would be about winning football matches. If we can do it playing in an entertaining way, fantastic.”

Sampson, 32, is very much a rookie in comparison with Mexico’s 61-year-old Leonardo Cuellar. He has been coaching Mexico since 1998, following on from a fine playing career and is a veteran of three previous World Cups as a player (in the 1978 men’s finals) and manager (1999, 2011, women’s). “That doesn’t bother me,” said Sampson. “It is not something I have thought about. For us it is about the team we are facing, not the coach.”

What they have in common is that neither has ever won a game at this level. While Tuesday was Sampson’s debut it was Cuellar’s tenth World Cup tie. Cuellar played every minute as El Tri lost all three games at Argentina’78, including a shock loss to Tunisia and a 6-0 thrashing by Germany. He has since overseen three draws and four defeats as a manager of Las Tricolores.

One of those draws was in Mexico’s opening game here, against Colombia, another was against England in 2011 when Monica Ocampo scored from long-range to cancelled out Williams’ goal.

“I can remember the excitement of the goal and the disappointment of the final score,” she said. England missed several chances to win the match and Williams added: “The way Mexico play I’m sure if we play a good attacking game we’ll have chances. It is so important to take them. Against France the goal [Eugenie Le Sommer] scored, she created from nothing.”

Mexico, still seeking a first ever World Cup win, only reached Canada via an extra-time win in a play-off against Trinidad & Tobago.  Their team is much younger than England but the youngsters have a good pedigree with Mexico’s U20s (coached by Leonardo’s son Christopher) reaching the quarter-finals in both the 2010 and 2012 editions of the world championships. Many of those players are now in the senior side.

“I am not sure it is a must-win, but it is a must-not lose,” said Sampson. “In the context of the group, four points probably enough to get you through in second place so you’ve got that target in mind as a minimum requirement. But we are confident we can pick up a win.”