Amid the euphoria surrounding England women’s historic first World Cup knockout victory, former manager Hope Powell could be forgiven for feeling a sense of “so what?”
England showed character in coming back to beat Norway in Ottawa on Monday, and Lucy Bronze’s strike was one of the goals of the tournament. Yet the reality is England have only matched the performances of the teams Powell coached in 2007 and 2011, and played in back in 1995.
The expansion of the World Cup to 24 teams, prompting the inclusion of a knockout round of 16, gave England the chance finally to win a sudden-death match at this level. That is significant psychologically, but they will have to win another to progress further than in their previous three tournaments.
Reaching the last eight means England have justified their world ranking of six and achieved their initial target. Not getting this far would have been a failure. Getting to the semi-finals, whatever then happens, is a success.
Canada stand in their way. Their manager, John Herdman, is a Geordie who left an academy job at Sunderland to further his career. While working in New Zealand he switched to the women’s game and has proved a good manager of both the Silver Ferns and Canada, who he steered to victory over GB at London 2012. Canada went on to take the bronze medal.
This year England have beaten the Canucks, in Cyprus in March, and then lost to them prior to this tournament. In the latter game England modelled the defensive game plan they produced in this World Cup against France in the group stages and, until they went behind on Monday, Norway.
This approach – a reaction to the thrashing England suffered when they tried to take on Germany at Wembley in November – has failed. While Canada and France had limited chances and needed well-struck 20-yard goals to win, both games were lost 1-0 with England rarely threatening. The Norway tie was heading the same way before England had to go on the offensive after going behind.
Manager Mark Sampson will argue the plan is more nuanced: keep it tight for an hour, then open up. It is true that the influential substitution of Jill Scott was made before Norway scored – though since it was Fran Kirby who came off, this was hardly an attacking move. More transformative was Jodie Taylor’s arrival.
Canada have scored three goals in four games. They are not to be feared – though the beneficial decisions they are receiving from referees are a concern.
If Canada score first, the momentum created with 50,000-plus fans in Vancouver’s BC Place will be hard to resist. There is an argument for keeping the game tight and hoping the tension gets to the home team and their supporters, but that tension will be much more pronounced if England control the game. This time Sampson’s lionesses need to start on the front foot.Reuse content