BY Harry Corton
Although it might sound like the corniest of Pro Evolution Soccer E-sports competitions, the SheBelieves Cup (SBC) is merely the latest inception of a range of annual invitational women’s tournaments.
This year sees a new set of teams involved in SBC. France and Germany have been jettisoned to make way for Brazil and Japan, while England along with hosts the USA keep their places. To best prepare for this year’s World Cup, organisers reasoned, they should bring together a range of opponents from four continents.
In years gone by, England have appeared in various warm-up events such as the Cyprus Cup and Algarve Cup in preparation for major tournaments. This is sure to be a much greater test of the team’s readiness for France 2019.
Here’s all you need to know about the SBC 2019.
What Does The Form Book Say?
Phil Neville has enjoyed serene progress in this massive year for him and his players as they breezed through World Cup qualification conceding just once in eight games.
Then came the hiccup against Sweden last year when they fell to a 2-0 defeat. Before that though, Neville’s side went unbeaten in 11 games, winning nine. A smart run of form by anyone’s estimation.
While the Lionesses have enjoyed relative plain sailing over the last few months, they’re certainly about to endure far choppier waters. England’s SBC campaign kicks off on Wednesday against Brazil, a side they bested 1-0 back in October. Next, they face reigning world champions, USA, before meeting 2011 winners, Japan.
Debutants Georgia Stanway and Chioma Ubagagu both netted in the Lionesses previous victory.
Who’s Made The Cut?
Squad confidence took a knock when it was confirmed that Jill Scott wouldn’t be joining her teammates on the plane to Pennsylvania at the 11th hour. Instead, England’s midfield engine will focus on getting back to 100% fitness ahead of the World Cup. As with anyone boasting 132 caps, her calming influence will be sorely missed.
The news was all the more baffling given Scott had just played 120 minutes against Arsenal to help Man City lift the Continental Cup. Taking her place is former Arsenal forward Chioma Ubagagu who plies her trade stateside with Orlando Pride.
Jordan Nobbs, one of the team’s brightest stars is absent from the squad due to an ACL injury whilst Chelsea’s Millie Bright was also ruled out at late notice with a thigh injury.
How Did We Get Here?
Euro 2017 highlighted the huge leap forwards the Lionesses have made. Although it followed on from the roaring success of reaching the World Cup semi-finals two years previously, it came four years after the nadir of Euro 2013. Hope Powell’s side finished rock bottom of their group in Sweden, drawing just once with Russia.
Now two managers (and a whole heap of controversy) later, this side has gone from caterpillar to butterfly. There is humongous talent in every position. Their last 20 matches before the shock defeat to Sweden delivered no fewer than 69 goals, shipping just three.
It’s fair to say that the massive gulf in quality between nations (even from the same continent) is a reason for the cricket scores. Nobody knows that better than Neville which is why the SBC takes even more significance. It’s a chance to make a big statement, to take on the very best and announce themselves as a super-power to be reckoned with.
Nikita Parris has had a phenomenal season by anybody’s standards notching 19 goals as we go into this international break. The fact she is still only 24 years old has most observers giddy with excitement about what she’s capable of in an England shirt.
The forward hasn’t featured for the Lionesses as much as she would have liked but that could be about to change. You can bank on her being desperate to replicate her piping hot form on the biggest stage.
The Prodigal Daughter
Another supreme talent is Parris’ City teammate, Georgia Stanway. The 20-year-old has been part of the furniture at St George’s Park since the age of 15, scoring 35 goals in 42 age-group appearances, before slotting on her senior debut last year.
The striker has enjoyed an impressive early club career to match. Since joining Man City from Blackburn Rovers in 2015 she’s been cooking on gas, banging home 21 times, including two hat-tricks. Neville and his staff have seen all too well the rewards of hanging their hat on the peg of youth. Stanway has proved she is more than ready to seize her chance when it comes.
Star Striker Stockholm Syndrome
There have been very few careers to leave such a lasting impression on the England team than that of Jodie Taylor. Unfortunately for England, a globetrotting club career taking in the USA, Canada and Australia made international commitments impossible.
Despite showing oodles of promise, somewhat remarkably she didn’t make her international debut until the age of 28. It was a seminal moment in Euro 2013, as she watched her nation’s dismal display from the stands, something clicked. She realised she was missing something important. Four years later she walked away with the Golden Boot.
Jodie Taylor scored the winner in the 2017 European Championships quarter-final against France.
Taylor has bags of useful experience, having spent time playing in the States as well as Scandinavia, Canada and Australia – all traditionally heavyweight competitors at the big tournaments. As well as her goals, England are no doubt relying on her for the inside scoop on who and what to look out for in the States this week.
Between The Sticks?
At 34 years of age, Karen Bardsley has been a mainstay of the England set-up for over a decade. Despite being born across the pond in California, she opted to represent England given her family’s roots in Greater Manchester.
This summer she will play in her third World Cup and is clearly a prized asset in the eyes of her gaffer. Her performance in last weekend’s League Cup final won’t have passed Neville by as she denied two Arsenal spot kicks to seize glory for Man City in the shootout.
But there is stiff competition in the form of Wolfsburg No.1 Mary Earps. The Bristol Academy product was given the nod for England’s last match – the 1-0 win over Australia at Craven Cottage last October.
Since then, she has kicked on in Germany, providing two helping hands to push Wolfsburg above the Bavarian juggernauts, Bayern, and top of Frauen-Bundesliga. The 25-year-old earned her big European move after helping Reading to a record fourth-place WSL finish last season, keeping eight clean sheets in the process – the most in the league.
Given Earps’ recent form, Neville minor has one of the more pleasant footballing headaches to deal with. Whichever way he goes, it’s certain that the experience Bardsley possesses will be invaluable for tournament football, as and when penalty-saving pedigree is required.
Find pubs showing Lionesses live on TV by clicking the link or the fixtures below.