It is hard to assess England’s performance at the Women’s World Cup without being feeling a little deflated. Overall, they played well and were knocked out by the eventual winners but their run to semi-finals was marked by some frustrating VAR decisions. What’s more, their failure to secure third place meant they left with nothing to cheer about.
England began the year as the fourth-ranked team in the world, so their final standing should have come as no surprise. But after winning the fourth edition of the SheBelieves Cup (in which they drew 2-2 with the USA) earlier in the year, there was a real sense of optimism heading into this summer’s FIFA extravaganza. The question now is: Where do England go from here?
Is Phil Neville the right person for the job?
There was a lot of scepticism when Phil Neville was appointed England manager but he soon won over his critics with his high level of dedication and commitment to the job. He created a good working environment and the players seemed to appreciate his personal management skills. The big question is whether England’s tactical approach was the right one.
England set up at the tournament to retain possession and were successful in terms of the statistics. Their commitment to this plan was admirable but such a strategy requires the right groups of players with the technical ability to pull it off effectively. At times it seemed as if England may have been trying to implement a plan that required some players to play above their ability.
Learning from the USA
In contrast, the teams that beat them were more direct and more physical. In particular, the USA, who perhaps played a style that did not make the most of all their individual talent but that worked for the team as a whole. The American’s ability to control the game in the early stages, work the advantage and then be content to concede possession was not the most attractive to watch but it was by the most effective. It was no surprise when the team were marked as pre-tournament favourites with Oddschecker where punters head for the latest free bet offers.
It is easy to forget that Neville is at the very start of his coaching journey while Jill Ellis has almost 30 years’ experience behind her. In that context, the England boss’s achievements should not be overlooked. He also seems to have a good relationship with the players and they may feel that they can go on to achieve more together. So, while there may be some who feel that there ar
e more qualified coaches out there, the former Manchester United man is in a strong
position and is likely to stay on.
Continued exposure essential
It could also be that the familiar face of Neville played a part in getting so many people in the country interested in the women’s game. Since he was appointed, the exposure has increased massively with the World Cup receiving primetime coverage on the BBC. Over 11 million people tuned in to the semi-final defeat to the USA making it the most viewed TV broadcast of 2019 so far. Who knows what would have happened if England had won.
So, are we at a turning point? Will the public continue to engage with women’s football in such a positive way? The answer must be yes. Some of the momentum must be maintained in the coming months and years. Now that new viewers are familiar with the players and the dynamics of the women’s game, there is sure to be continued interest especially if the major broadcasters continue to throw their weight behind major tournaments. The majority of sports journalists also showed great enthusiasm and that could also be a big plus going forward. In fact, the tournament exceeded all expectations in terms of how it was received.
Newly converted fans
One of the biggest positives was the number of males of all ages who embraced the tournament and supported the national team. In the early part of the tournament, there were plenty of voices on social media rushing to point out that the women’s game is not at the same level as the men’s. But by the end, everyone was just arguing about the pros and cons of VAR.
England are not far from being world beaters but tactically, there is a little way to go. Ironically, many fans of the USA team have been calling for a change of coach due to the style of Jill Ellis’s team. They seem willing to accept less success in exchange for a more entertaining brand of play. Meanwhile, England fans would be happy to accept a less expansive style if it meant picking a piece of major silverware.