If England manager Mark Sampson did not know of the enormity of the task ahead of the World Cup in Canada next year he certainty will now. England have a real problem ahead of the flagship tournament in the women’s game.
The Lionesses have been largely untroubled under the former Bristol Academy coach and it has gone someway in masking the weakness his side have when up against the world’s elite.
Qualification was a relatively forgone conclusion, outclassing opposition teams with aplomb. It’s tournament progression that’s the real problem. With only two major finals in their history, most recently against Germany in the 2009 European Championships Final, it’s a huge negative on the England report card.
It’s very much disappointing given the investment and hard work put in by the FA to improve the women’s game in the UK, both in the national infrastructure including training facilities and in the development of the league structure.
It still lags behind its continental counterparts in the Frauen Bundesliga, Division 1 Féminine and Damallsvenskan. Although the gap is narrowing, it will take a lot more progression in the FAWSL and within the national framework to bring it up to the dynamic approach of the German system.
There has been progress, and the 45,000 plus tickets sold for an England women’s international against Germany showed the advancement. Playing at Wembley for the first time, in hindsight, seems more of a curse than a blessing, forcing the 1-0 win over Brazil for team GB further into the distant memory.
England were on the back foot from the get go and were vastly out battled and outfought by Germany. Silvia Neid played her master plan to perfection starving Eniola Aluko, Fara Williams and Karen Carney of the ball. Germany were strong in the tackle and maintained shape and discipline; they got everything right and even had the luxury of not really getting out of second gear in the second half.
No amount of misplaced positivity from Doncaster’s Sue Smith in commentary could mask what was on display. An abject failure to create clear-cut chances or to even get a foothold in a game with the talent Sampson has at his disposal. Simply put, England failed to really impose their game, something that will be key to their World Cup chances next year.
Given the rise of the women’s game in the UK, a public expects a level of performance. The excuse of it being six months to the World Cup with time for improvement will not wash with England fans as much as it would have perhaps even a year ago.
England were naive and gave Germany too much respect from the first to the final whistle, that has to stop. England have to believe that they can challenge the best the world has to offer. It’s almost as if the side had a deep psychological blow even before a ball was kicked in anger, such is the challenge Germany pose. Akin to intrepid mountaineers, England have to learn to scale new heights; presently there is a sense that they are failing reach their peak.
There was little to suggest that they had the belief that they could break a resilient German defence. It left Germany to give England a harsh footballing lesson which was not what the occasion actually merited nor what they craved. There are now no excuses for failure given the level of investment both on and off the pitch.
With the World Cup looming over the horizon, there are well founded reasons to be concerned. England were sloppy, disorganised, and gave away possession all to cheaply. Mixed in with the lack of creativity, a core component of the way in which we all expect, it leaves Sampson with a real headache. Given the opposition England will face, it will bring those issues firmly into sharper focus.
France are always a strong bet to progress deep into a tournament – fluid, composed, quick on the counter and well organised. Defending champions Japan are also a threat, technically and tactically astute. Canada and USA will betough to crack and physically imposing, and that’s even before we get to Germany and the Scandinavian contingent.
Sampson will inevitably have gone through the Wembley debacle with almost forensic precision. It is now up to him and his team to restore confidence, go back to basics and sort the fundamentals in the hope of cutting out those errors that will be magnified in greater measure in Canada.
If the team cannot deliver, they may suffer the same fate as the men’s side with a public who expect tournament failure and a media blackout that has taken decades to overcome. England ladies are teetering on the proverbial footballing cliff – they can be either the masters of their own path to glory or another side that promised so much but produced so little.