2019 Women's World Cup team previews: England
Having been semifinalists in its past two major tournaments and encouraged by the SheBelieves Cup triumph, England will hope to come away from this World Cup with the trophy in captain Steph Houghton's hands. This summer, the Lionesses will whip up a national fervor and excitement last seen when the men got to the semifinals of their 2018 World Cup, and the whole country will be glued to television screens, cheering on Phil Neville's side.
How they got here
England progressed to the World Cup in a group with Wales, Russia, Bosnia, Herzegovina and Kazakhstan and with a match to spare. England scored a truckload of goals in qualifying (29), and conceded just one. The team will also take plenty of heart from the 2019 SheBelieves Cup success, where it beat Brazil and Japan and drew with the U.S., which was enough to see England emerge as winners.
England has plenty of goals on its side. Having scored 29 in qualifying, if one player is having an off day then a teammate is likely to step up. Kelly Smith believes the likes of Fran Kirby, Ellen White, Nikita Parris, Beth Mead and Toni Duggan will all chip in with their fair share of goals in France. And unlike four years back, this team is entirely professional, and it has given itself the license to swap attrition style in the last World Cup to a more free-flowing, easy-on-the-eye attacking game.
In the past, England has struggled for belief. Though full of talent, the team has spoken of not having the inner-confidence and strut to get through the big knockout games. That seems to have changed under Neville with the group giving off an air of self-belief and arrow-like focus on winning the World Cup. The group is unapologetic in their aims, and that is an improvement considering where they were four years back. Though they have impressive strength in depth, England will be without key duo Jordan Nobbs and Izzy Christiansen for the World Cup, while star forward Fran Kirby has struggled with injuries this term and will hope to hit her Everest-high standards by the time the opener against Scotland ticks around on June 9.
Money stat: 23
England's squad announcement went out to a collective audience of 170 million social media users, thanks to its unique way of confirming the lucky 23 players who are heading to France. Well-known figures like Prince William, David Beckham, Emma Watson and Ellie Goulding announced to the world each England player who made the final cut. The 23 videos were the talk of social media and created an unrivaled buzz around the squad. Neville wanted that moment to be special for the players but also prepare them for the spotlight they will be under come the start of the tournament. "We have to make these players visible," Neville said. "We want everybody around the world to buy in to what will be the biggest Women's World Cup of all time."
Players to watch
England has a star-studded squad with the likes of Lucy Bronze and Toni Duggan excelling for Champions League finalists Lyon and Barcelona, respectively, while Fran Kirby is world-class. Beth Mead is tearing up trees for both club and country, but the eye-catching in-form player is Manchester City's Nikita Parris. She was crowned Football Writers' Association's Women's Footballer of the Year and finished the season as the second-highest scorer in the WSL with 19 goals. She can play on the wing or up front and has 11 in 36 for England.
England's opener against old foes Scotland should be one of the matches of the group stages. Scotland is playing in its first World Cup and will be ready to throw everything at England. On paper, England should win. If the team manages that, it will then ease past Argentina to set up a key clash with Japan, which knocked England out at the semifinal stage in 2015. Japan is a bit of an unknown quantity, having gone with youth for this World Cup, but that clash looks set to decide who tops the pool.
"I sit here in a position where I'm convinced we can go to this World Cup and have a successful tournament. We have a squad that's motivated and full of world-class players and now has the belief and confidence to go to a World Cup and be successful." -- Neville on England's chances.
England should reach the semifinal stage, and from there will fancy winning the tournament. If the squad maintains its composure and focus, while staying healthy, then it has the ability and potential to be a force in the latter stages of the World Cup.