Mark Sampson's 'Team of 23' key to England's World Cup hopes
Carrie Dunn reports from Canada, where England manager Mark Sampson has been using an inclusive approach at the Women's World Cup.
England coach Mark Sampson is a man who likes buzzwords and phrases. “Gameplan” is one, “momentum” is another.
This World Cup he's also adopted another - “team of 23”.
England have come to Canada with a relatively settled first team, but the rigours of group tournament football, plus an extra knock-out game in this expanded World Cup, have meant that sticking to tactics and avoiding tiredness have become crucial – hence the entire squad playing a part in the campaign.
That's led to two very different starting line-ups so far – the defensive team to take on France, and the more attacking side to face Mexico, with three changes from the off.
But it also led to the two second-half substitutions that turned the game for England – Alex Greenwood and Karen Carney replacing Claire Rafferty and Jill Scott.
Fran Kirby, pictured, and Karen Carney were on target for EnglandPA Sport
“It's not about 11,” said Sampson after the Mexico game. “You have to be a team of 23, so to see so many players already contribute in such a positive manner is pleasing. The players who didn't get on today will take great heart that players have come off the bench and contributed so well.”
Notts County's Greenwood is a novice at international level; Birmingham's Carney has featured at three World Cups and has over 100 caps. Their introduction against Mexico injected pace and creativity, and directly led to both goals.
Mexico coach Leonardo Cuellar was quick to pay tribute to the vision and skill of Carney in particular and admitted his side took too long to work out what England were doing.
“When England made their substitutions, especially when their No. 10 [Carney] entered the game, it changed the pace of the action, and was a very determining factor in the outcome,” said Cuellar. “We tried to make some adjustments, but it took us a lot of minutes to understand what the English coach did.”
England forward Fran Kirby (22) celebrates with England midfielder Jade Moore (11) and England midfielder Fara Williams (4) after the game against MexicoReuters
Some wondered whether Sampson's hand had been forced by lack of match fitness – Rafferty, who's come back from three knee ligament ruptures, has only had a few months of competitive football since returning from injury, Scott was seen with ice on her calf and later on Lucy Bronze was visibly struggling after an awkward landing and was replaced by Alex Scott.
Sampson was adamant that all his changes were tactical, and just happened to coincide with incidents where the players had taken minor knocks.
“It's hard work,” he said. “They had to be strong and brave to manage Mexico and the first contact. When the game opened up a little bit, it was the ideal opportunity for Alex [Greenwood] to come into the game and progress higher up the pitch. We put her in there three times and she delivered two world-class crosses, and one of them Karen Carney got on the end of. I'm pleased with the impact of the substitutions – but more importantly for the group.”
Sampson's “Team England”, as he referred to them yesterday, now travel to Montreal, where they'll face Colombia. They pulled off one of the shocks of the year by beating France – England will need their entire team of 23 if they're to progress in this World Cup.