With only one game left in 2016 and preparations for next year’s 2017 European championship well underway, we are starting to get an idea of the philosophy and style that England will play with at the tournament if not the personnel that will wear the white shirt of England in the Netherlands at Euro 2017.
England recently took on two fellow Euro 2017 finalists and recorded a 0-0 draw against France and a 2-1 away win in Spain. On the face of it two credible results but it is the draw against the French that raises the most questions.
Although England have risen through the rankings in Women’s football; finishing 3rd at the last World Cup, and recording wins over the likes of Germany , the US, and Norway in the past 5 years, one hurdle still remains, and that is a win against the French. England haven’t beaten them since 1972 and given the French are always at the sharp end of tournaments there is a good chance England will need to find a way to beat them if they are to lift a major championship trophy
England’s draw in Doncaster can be looked at in two ways. On the one hand they didn’t concede and while they conceded plenty of possession to the French Karen Bardsley in the England goal had very little to do so that’s a huge plus. However football is all about scoring goals and there was little chance of England doing that as they failed to record a single shot on target.
In Women’s football there are still gaps between the various quality levels. England have played 4 games against truly elite teams in 2016; USA, Germany, and France twice, recording defeats v Germany and the US with two 0-0 draws v the French. Only one goal was scored with 3 being conceded (one of them against Germany being an own goal). It’s a fair conclusion that England will prove to be a tough nut to crack at the Championships next summer unlike Euro 2013 when their defence was their downfall.
It is also worth remembering that England’s rise up the world rankings means they will be seeded in the Euros meaning they will avoid fellow top seeds Germany, France and host nation the Netherlands in the group stage. England have been very strong against European opposition outside of the big two in with their last competitive defeat being against Spain in 2013. Both Belgium and Spain are in the second tier of European nations trying to bridge the gap to the top sides and England scored impressive away wins against both in 2016.
One of the most telling trends in women’s football has been the improvement in defensive play over the past few years. Canada won bronze at London 2012 with a defensive first set up. Sweden won silver at Rio being very defensive and although the US has an embarrassment of riches in attacking areas it is widely accepted that the sides back four and goalkeeper was the real reason the side won its first World Cup since 1999 in Canada last year.
Early in 2017 we will get some more clues as to the progress England are making. They will face the world’s best in America and a few more matches against European opposition before they try and break Germany’s stranglehold on the European championships in the summer.
We know they will be organised, we know they will be hard to beat. The challenge is now to find that player who has that bit of skill and magic to unlock the very best defences.
Either that or practice becoming masters of the penalty shootout...