Winning ugly is fine by England head coach Mark Sampson as long as his team beat Japan in Wednesday night’s World Cup semi-final at Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium.
Japan are the reigning champions and often referred to as the Barcelona of women’s football thanks to a stylish passing game that has enabled them to reach the last four as the only team in the tournament to have won every one of their games.
England, meanwhile, have battled their way through some bruising encounters, and Sampson is preparing to take the same approach against Japan. “Look,” he said, “if you offered me any win in this semi-final – however it comes – I’d bite your arm off and your two legs as well so we could get to the final.
“There are some teams who have been brilliant in this tournament. The French played some of the best football I’ve ever seen a women’s team play in their quarter-final against Germany, but Germany went through. Canada at times played some excellent football against us, but England got through.
“It’s about winning football matches. We’re under no illusions that if we’d played like the Brazil of the 1970s, or the Japanese of 2011, and we’d gone out at the group stage, we wouldn’t be on the front pages of newspapers back home now.”
England’s best chance, believes Sampson, is to use the physicality and height advantage that his team will have over the Japanese. And set-pieces, which have been key to England winning their last two games, will again form a major part of the coach’s game plan.
“We’ve got some big players in our team,” he said, “and if we feel it’s a weapon we can use to hurt the opponent then we’ll have no hesitation in using it.
“We have some strong routines that we feel can really hurt this Japanese team, so it’s just about giving us the opportunity to put the ball into the box with quality.
“If it wasn’t for set-plays we wouldn’t still be in the tournament. The two key moments in this tournament have come from set-pieces, a well-worked corner routine against Norway and a perfectly worked free-kick against Canada, so we know how important they are. It’s an area that we’ve put a lot of work into.”
While he feels that out-muscling Japan may be the best way to beat them, Sampson will warn his players that the technical finesse of their opponents is not all they have to offer.
“We’re playing a team who are in love with that football,” he said. “They get it, they want to keep it, they want to move it into areas to move you about, but they are also a team with incredible desire. People will point to their physical side, but they’re never-say-die.
“They won the World Cup four years ago on the principle of hanging on in there. They fought for everything and we can’t forget that.
“They want to get through to the final as much as we do, so we have to make sure that our motivational levels are right, that we manage the Japanese threat and we throw a bit back.”
Sampson has already led England to their greatest Women’s World Cup achievement by reaching the semi-finals but, 18 months after taking charge, he feels confident that even more history can be made as he eyes a trophy triumph.
“We are two wins away from being world champions,” he said, “and if you had said that to us 18 months ago I’m not sure anyone in our group, bar myself and some of the staff, would have believed that could come true.
“But as time has gone on, the players have grown in belief and now the team feels as if something is happening, something is going on. This tournament has transpired in a way that gives us huge belief that this team will find a way to get themselves through to the final.
“We know the task is huge,” Sampson added, “but we really do feel that something is happening that gives us that sense of belief, that higher sense of purpose, that we will find a way to be the last team to go home.”Reuse content