England’s surprise defeat to the Netherlands in the semi-finals of EURO 2017 has naturally received a mixed response from fans and media alike.
The Lionesses travelled to Holland as one of the favourites for the competition after an almost flawless qualification period, and big wins over the likes of the United States in the lead up to the tournament.
While the heartbreaking defeat to the hosts will take players and fans time to get over, there are plenty of plus points to take away from the competition.
Here’s Five reasons why Lionesses fans should remain positive:
The emergence of Millie Bright
Chelsea’s young centre back was arguably England’s best player of the tournament, with her own goal at the end of the semi-final in no way defining the performances she displayed.
The 23-year-old was outstanding against Spain, showing immense concentration and positioning as she and her fellow backline had to deal with long periods without the ball.
Having also played as a holding midfielder for her club, and striker at previous side Doncaster Rovers Belles, Bright has an intelligence and reading of the game of someone much older than the young head on her shoulders. With Steph Houghton having had multiple centre-back partners during her time as skipper, there is a strong possibility that Bright may have convinced Head Coach Mark Sampson that she should be the player to partner Houghton long-term.
England have a world class Number 9
— Ann Odong ⚽️📝 (@AnnOdong) July 30, 2017
England’s previous top scorer at a major tournament was Kelly Smith, who bagged four goals at the World Cup in China in 2007. Smith was almost unplayable that tournament, and in England’s opening game of EURO 2017, it was Jodie Taylor who took on that role.
Arsenal’s forward watched EURO 2013 from the stands due to being based in Sweden with then club Gothenburg FC, despite being in fine goal scoring form and more than worthy of a place in Hope Powell’s squad.
The former Portland Thorns and Washington Spirit striker has had to be patient in awaiting her opportunity to star on the biggest stage, and her performances once again raises the question as to why Powell continually overlooked her. But that aside, if she can stay away from injury, England have a genuine world class forward, who only needs a sniff at goal to potentially change a match.
The semi-final will be a disappointment for the 31-year-old, who could have done better with an effort in the second half that was fired straight at club teammate Sari van Veenendaal, but she can look at the tournament as a huge positive, and is in pole position to win the Golden Boot.
Plenty of options
— Ann Odong ⚽️📝 (@AnnOdong) July 27, 2017
Few countries in the world could make ten changes at a major tournament, and still come out with a victory. But Mark Sampson showed the faith he has in his squad when he made ten changes against Portugal, and still saw his team come out victorious.
Cynics will point to the fact the Portuguese are ranked much lower than the Lionesses and were making their major tournament debut, but England were all but qualified for the quarterfinals, so it would have been easy for those players to take their foot off the gas and just play out a draw.
After an indifferent first half, the side showed the quality Sampson has available with a 2-1 victory, and with 21 of his 23-player squad utilised, Sampson received a clear insight into how his players handle tournament football.
We must also spare a thought and consider those players who didn’t even make the final squad. The likes of Danielle Carter and Gemma Davison both featured during qualifying, and youngsters such as Keira Walsh, Jess Carter and too many more to mention will soon to be knocking on the door – the future is incredibly bright for England.
England playing a back four instead of a back three
— Channel 4 (@Channel4) August 3, 2017
Right up until the SheBelieves Cup in March, Mark Samspon had experimented multiple times with a back three, with Steph Houghton and Lucy Bronze joined by the likes of Casey Stoney, Laura Bassett, or even midfielder Jo Potter.
The move was a strange one having seen his side be so successful with a more traditional back four, and saw the England Head Coach bring in the likes of Rachel Daly, Gemma Davison and Izzy Christiansen to fill the wide area. This, essentially, meant Lucy Bronze’s role was much more defensive, and removed the attacking threat that has made the best all-round full-back in the world.
Reverting back to a back four once again brought out the best in Bronze and Demi Stokes, and allowed for Millie Bright and Steph Houghton to forge a very promising partnership, as mentioned above.
— Channel 4 Press (@C4Press) August 4, 2017
The interest in England during this tournament has reached levels that are almost unrivalled. Records for TV audiences were broken multiple times throughout the competition, with four million people tuning in for England’s game with the hosts, while back pages and radio broadcasts have been awash with chat about Mark Sampson’s side.
Success equals interest, and interest equals coverage. England’s last two tournaments have seen semi-final appearances, and while the World Cup will be seen as more of a success than the EUROs, England’s performances in the group, and against France, cannot be ignored.
The key is maintaining that interest.
Mark Sampson thanked the media for their coverage after the Holland defeat and encouraged the assembled press to continue attending FA Women’s Super League matches and England fixtures. ‘Continuing’ insinuates that national press is regularly at Women’s Super League and England fixtures, some of them are not. But the public also has a role to play in that. Full stadiums always look good on television, and clicks on articles always fair well with newspaper editors.
The coverage was positive, and long may it continue, but if you want more, visit your local club, and read the articles being posted.