England’s women will take another big step closer to this summer’s World Cup tonight as the ‘Road To France’ series gets underway. First to be primed for the far-from ‘friendly’ dust-up: a Canada side who must be absolutely gagging to serve up a cold cup of revenge.
There is bad blood between these two, dating back four years when the Lionesses knocked the Canucks out of their own World Cup at the quarter-finals in 2015, when the two nations last locked horns.
The 2-1 victory was pretty much wrapped within the opening 15 minutes thanks to goals from stalwarts Jodie Taylor and Lucy Bronze. It was a bitter pill for the hosts to swallow in front of the 55,000 strong crowd in Vancouver. But, for England, it was cathartic given the events of London 2012 when Team GB were knocked out at the same stage by the North Americans.
A lot has changed since the last World Cup. For starters, the maple syrup guzzlers have been elevated up the FIFA rankings from 11th to 5th after finishing runners-up behind the USA in last year’s CONCACAF Women’s Championships. The Lionesses meanwhile have kicked on a bit themselves. At third in the world their progress mirrors their previous World Cup finish.
After this happened last time, England must spark fear into the hearts of those maple munching Canucks.
Some things – more important things – have stayed the same though. Not only does Phil Neville have much of the same personnel to call upon, but also their form doesn’t appear to have waned in the slightest.
The team’s performance at the SheBelieves Cup was testament to that and, if anything, the squad appear to be much improved. Taylor and Bronze, stars of the show last time out against Canada, were both involved in important goals while other senior figures like Karen Carney and captain Steph Houghton are still very much part of the furniture. Consider, too, the fiery young blood which Nikita Parris and Beth Mead both bring to the table, and the team appear to be in better shape than ever.
Don’t expect Neville’s charge to be coasting as they head into this four-game warm-up series. There is still some serious competition for places on that plane to France in eight weeks’ time. And with limited games left in the WSL calendar, these matches against tough international opposition will be the best place to show the gaffer just how much they can offer.
With 10 out of 25 of the current squad plying their trade domestically for Man City, where tonight’s game is being played, the team should feel right at home in front of a sell-out 7,000 capacity Academy Stadium.
We’ll also get a first glimpse of the Lionesses brand spanking new customised Nike strip in action. The exclusive home and away kits featuring hand-drawn embroidery of flowers native to England.
A win tonight would be Neville’s first ever win in front of a home crowd and, incredibly, the Lionesses first in 18 months.
Prediction: England 3-1 Canada and Nikita Parris to score.