Tweeting pictures from their business class seats on an Air Canada flight bound for Toronto, Instagraming city landmarks, and recreating the Liverpool Kolo/Yaya Toure escalator viral video. It almost seems as if the England team are going on one massive girls away trip.
Those lighthearted moments hide the hard work already been done in Canada as England prepare for their World Cup opener against France.
While Germany 2011 was a tournament of soul searching and unanswered potential, Canada 2015 firmly is rooted in development and pushing towards breaking free from their last eight demons. Change is often needed to evolve and achieve those goals.
There was little progressive about England, as if ideas had been exhausted, bridges burned to such extent positions become untenable. Focusing in on the later, former England boss Hope Powell polarised option, seen more as negative element in the England women’s national team framework. Powell was harming rather than enhancing English women’s football.
Times and the temperature of the England dressing room has changed and there seems nothing but positivity coming of the training ground. Removing the negative connotations is one of the by products of England’s new dawn under new management. It provides the pre-requisite conditions for players to feel valued which leads to better performances.
England ironically turned to a Welshman to restore the lionesses’ fortunes. Mark Sampson is fiercely driven, very much his own man. He is focused, diligent, positive and understands his players, with a deftness of application of his football philosophy sets him apart. His player management in every respect is all geared to improving standards.
Before cutting his teeth with Bristol Academy, Sampson worked with current Everton boss Roberto Martinez at Swansea City and learned from the strict application of the passing game with an emphasis on maintaining standards.
Sampson demands focus and a strong work ethic. Responding to his approach, Alex Scott has praised the coach for his ability to organise the collective:
Life under the management of Mark has been great. You never stop learning as a player and Mark is pushing us to learn and evolve not just as individuals but as a team. He allows players to express themselves not just on the pitch but also off it.
You have so many different personalities within a team environment which are allowed to be on show and not hidden. I think the massive thing you can see that Mark has brought to the team is that it is all about work ethic.
Learning his trade with Martinez in Swansea, it is clear that the philosophy of the passing game is king as well as the ability to be comfortable on the ball, to play your way out of danger, and this will be pivotal to winning matches.
England are more composed and positive in their play under Sampson, and certainly a more harmonious team with players being brought back into the family. Bringing Lianne Sanderson back into the fold restored a sense of balance back into the team and arguably its moral compass with it.
While conditions are certainly right to go deep into the tournament, there is still a nagging sense that England need to find a way to break the run of defeats sustained against higher ranked rivals.
England are a good watch right now. Defensively they are capable and cohesive, with Casey Stoney always able to command those around her. Returning from injury, Steph Houghton is the real life and soul of the back four and is ever ready to take on responsibilities, including free-kick duty. Sampson needs Houghton to be on top form, the very dynamism, organisation and control of the defence demands nothing less.
The coach is not short of attacking options. In her first World Cup, striker Fran Kirby’s inclusion raised a few eyebrows, but at the same time, isn’t too surprising given her performances for Reading. Wholly unproven in tournament football, it could be her fearless demeanour, pace and technically astute play that proves a masterstroke.
Kirby will potentially partner the ever entertaining Ellen White who is always keen to force the issue, pressing when required, and she is a fine technician. The combination could provide the England attack with dynamism and balance.
White also has the eye for the audacious, scoring from impossible positions including that wonder goal in the quarter-final against France last time out. If you add Sanderson into the mix, as well as the vastly experienced Karen Carney and the composed Toni Duggan, Sampson has very good options up front.
Those qualities will mean nothing unless the link-up play in midfield is right. Disconnection, lack of fluidity, absence of control in this fundamental area will be England’s downfall. If it breaks down in the middle of the park, the whole mechanics of the game plan will be impossible to actually apply.
Using width, quick passing, and movement on and off the ball are England’s strengths, and both Jill Scott and Fara Williams are vital to this plan. Tactically aware, resolute, composed and disciplined, it’s up to them to supply the ever exciting Eni Aluko.
Set to give wing backs that stand in her way more than a few headaches, Aluko is a true match winner in every sense of the word. If she performs well, the rest of the team generally follow. England will need to utilise her pace by penetrating defensive lines with patient build up play, creating space by drawing defenders out of position. England have the ability to do those tactical basics right.
There can be no hiding and England were poor against Canada in a pre-World Cup friendly. You can put that down, in part, to lack of match fitness and a fear of getting injured so close to the World Cup, but they were second best for significant passages of the game. Sampson even admitted he sent his charges out vastly unprepared:
We are reasonably pleased with the performance. Being realistic, we arrived in the country late on Monday and we only got one real training session under our belts.We weren’t going to be quite ready to play in a game of that intensity so we had to manage the game, and I felt we did that. We restricted Canada to limited opportunities.
Excuses will have to stop, the annual pre-tournament negative sentiment around England as an international football brand with it. Sampson and England have never had a better chance to progress very deep into a World Cup.
Likely to face Canada into the last eight, England know full well, they do have some degree of measure over their hosts. The route to Vancouver is one that does not need to be feared but progress will require a massive shift in the national soul; to believe and strive to attain new milestones.
France await in Moncton and the time for talking is over; it’s now or never for England who need to play up the belief that Sampson clearly has for his lionesses and their ability to break new ground.