WWC 2015 Round of 16: England

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England take on the might of Norway in the Round of 16 with a quarter final match-up against Canada on the line.

Group performance

England were the obvious candidates to automatically progress to the Round of 16 with France, and whilst they took a while to get going (161 minutes before Fran Kirby netted their first goal), Mark Sampson’s charges confidently disposed of Mexico and Colombia to set up a meeting with Norway in the knockout round.

The Three Lionesses were heavily criticised for paying too much respect to France in their opening 1-0 defeat against Les Bleues, and it took them time to readjust after playing in such a hyper-conservative fashion. But when the shackles were released against Mexcio and Colombia, England were better and the football was largely easy on the eye too with Karen Carney, Fran Kirby and Alex Scott all impressing.

In the end, England qualified comfortably but they will need to lift their game against a higher standard of opposition.


They’ll beat Norway because…

England are slowly building momentum and confidence. By accident or design, they have eventually found their most effective modus operandi and can now build on the positives taken from the wins against Mexico and Colombia. Fran Kirby is a perpetual threat, meanwhile Fara Williams has the experience and know-how to instill the necessary discipline and bite in a midfield that found its flow against Colombia. Although we’re yet to see it bear fruit, Alex Greenwood’s delivery from set-pieces will have even the world’s greatest defences concerned.

They could also benefit from the element of surprise. Mark Sampson has made a reputation for himself as a seasoned tinkerman with only goalkeeper Karen Bardsley and Fara Williams seemingly immune to his rotations. England have plenty of tricks up their sleeve, with the dangerous Lianne Sanderson yet to make an impact and Jordan Nobbs getting back to full fitness.

They’ll be knocked out by Norway because…

England often struggle against elite opposition and the Norweigans are certainly proving to be just that. Even Pellerud’s side went toe-to-toe with tournament favourites Germany and were in formidable form against Ivory Coast and Thailand.

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England have often failed to deal with directness – all three goals conceded so far this tournament have resulted from allowing key attacking players into pockets of space in front of the back four – and we know from watching Norway that they will look to exploit this at every opportunity.

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Against Norway, securing possession and winning individual battles in key areas on the field will be vital. Enolia Aluko and Toni Duggan, for all their redeeming qualities, may struggle to retain possession as well as someone like Lianne Sanderson. We’ll likely see England sacrifice two wide forwards in favour of a more defensive 4-1-4-1 but I don’t think this will give them enough fire power to consistently hurt the Norway defence.

Furthermore, in the last two games England have conceded two unnecessary late goals. They can’t afford this kind of complacency anymore. Lapses in concentration will provide Norway with the chances to kill England off.

Can they win the World Cup?

It’s unlikely. The scalp of Norway and a quarter-final finish would represent progress for England who lack the X-factor and pedigree of the other contenders. Having said that, anything’s possible and the English players are a committed, hungry bunch capable of mixing it with the best on their day. I doubt their day will come in this particular tournament, though.

Best moment of the tournament so far

England’s first goal of the cup, a late effort against Mexico courtesy of Fran Kirby, was a huge sigh of relief for the English faithful and a moment that kick-started their campaign. It really instigated some of their best football, continuing on well into the first half against Colombia. Without Kirby’s neat toe-poke England would be in a completely different and less pleasant scenario.

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Key player

Fara Williams holds things together for England. She is a mainstay in what has been an unsettled starting lineup and yet has still performed as professionally as you would expect for a player with such experience. She has the positional discipline to prevent Norway’s threat on the counter attack and has been efficient with the ball. In a game that will come down to fine margins, expect Williams to have a crucial role if England are victorious.

Injuries / suspensions

Nil.

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