You want to believe that this is England’s time. They destroyed their competition in a near-perfect World Cup qualifying campaign, only conceding once, winning all 10 matches, and only needing nine matches to punch their ticket to Canada. They’ve matched their highest ranking ever. They’re deep, and most importantly, there is only one other threat in Group F: France. Recent results, however, show that most likely, they are the best of the also-rans.
In July 2013 during the European Championships, England finished in the bottom of their group, but not before being mollywhopped, 3-0, by the French. In November 2014, Germany traveled to London and beat them 3-0. In February, the United States traveled to England to play and left with a 1-0 win. They have beaten Canada and China and Australia, but every time England have tested themselves against the world’s best, they have failed.
This summer, drawn alongside France, Colombia, and Mexico in Group F, England are clearly only second best. And this year, for a team not yet good enough to go toe-to-toe with the top soccer nations in the world, there’s a path in which they don’t have to.
The first-place winner in Group F is virtually guaranteed to play Germany in the quarterfinal, if they can get through the Group E runners-up, who can be any of Brazil, Spain, or South Korea. The second-place team, though, is rewarded with a much easier road. The Round of 16 match will be Group B’s second place team, and the quarterfinal will be played against the Group A winner or a weaker third-place team. With luck, England can waltz into the semifinal without playing a contender. But they have to lose first.
Goalkeepers: Karen Bardsley (Manchester City), Siobhan Chamberlain (Arsenal), Carly Telford (Notts County).
Defenders: Laura Bassett (Notts County), Lucy Bronze (Manchester City), Alex Greenwood (Notts County), Steph Houghton (Manchester City), Claire Rafferty (Chelsea), Alex Scott (Arsenal), Casey Stoney (Arsenal).
Midfielders: Karen Carney (Birmingham City), Katie Chapman (Chelsea), Jade Moore (Birmingham City), Jordan Nobbs (Arsenal), Josanne Potter (Birmingham City), Jill Scott (Manchester City), Fara Williams (Liverpool).
Forwards: Eniola Aluko (Chelsea), Toni Duggan (Manchester City), Fran Kirby (Reading), Lianne Sanderson (Arsenal), Jodie Taylor (Portland Thorns), Ellen White (Notts County).
All but one of the Three Lionesses play in England, and their style of play is unsurprisingly, well, English. After lining up in a 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-2, the English will play long balls into their forwards, who will hold up the ball or lay it off to a midfielder or winger in support. The ball will circulate out wide, then get crossed back in. A generous reading would call their style methodical; one less so would call it plodding. But when it works, it can put incredible pressure on defenses, who are forced backward and risk clearing the ball into a midfielder pressing forward. Last year, this style demolished a weakened Sweden side, who are currently ranked fifth in the world.
England have a wealth of talent. Up top, Arsenal’s Lianne Sanderson is a tall, imposing target, and Chelsea’s Eniola Aluko is a quick, energetic playmaker looking to get behind opposing defenses. They’re opposites in nearly every respect, though both have managed to score a goal about every third match. Twenty-three-year-old Manchester City forward Toni Duggan, however, has tallied 14 in just 26 appearances.
England’s strength lies in the midfield; there, Jordan Nobbs, Jill Scott, Kara Carney, and Fara Williams are all good players. But the one thing that they’re missing—again, like the men’s team—is a true superstar who can take matches. World Cups have always been decided by incredible players doing incredible things at the highest stage. England don’t have any incredible players. Even if they finish second in Group F, and the skies part, and they get closer to the World Cup than any English team in the last 25 years, England won’t win. They’re not supposed to.
June 9, 1 p.m: France vs. England at Moncton Stadium
June 13, 4 p.m.: England vs. Mexico at Moncton Stadium
June 17, 4 p.m.: England vs. Colombia at Olympic Stadium
All times Eastern
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