By Tony Leighton
England are set to contest the CFA International Tournament in China with a largely inexperienced squad but big demands from head coach Mark Sampson.
Only 11 of the 23 players from the summer’s bronze medal-winning World Cup squad have made the trip to Yongchuan – and just three of the other 10 in the 21-player group at the tournament have previously played for England’s senior side.
Sunderland’s Beth Mead and Chelsea trio Drew Spence, Laura Coombs and Hannah Blundell are new girls on the block while Gilly Flaherty, Rachael Laws and Mary Earps have been in past squads though without getting game time.
But as he looked ahead to the three-nation event Sampson said: “The new girls have deserved call-ups and I’ll expect them to meet the challenges they’ll face.
“It’s going to take them out of their comfort zone and give them a different experience in a difficult footballing environment.
“They’re here on merit, but they’ve got to show the desire to keep those jerseys because we’ve got lots of players who’ll be wanting to come back into the squad.”
Sampson deliberately left out players from Notts County and Arsenal – apart from Gunners full back Alex Scott – as they are preparing for next week’s Continental Cup final, while others have been rested or are injured.
England face Australia in Friday’s opening match of the tournament and then meet China in the concluding game on Tuesday.
With a tough friendly coming up next month against Germany, who they beat in July’s World Cup bronze medal match, Sampson sees this Far East venture as the start of the long build-up to 2017’s European Championship finals.
“Outside of our Euro 2017 qualifying group we have to take on top nations in friendlies to keep on testing ourselves and looking to go on improving,” he said.
“If we want to win the Euros we’ve got to go through that process, and these games in China will be very useful because we’re playing against two teams who both went through their World Cup groups impressively.
“Importantly as well with Euro 2017 in mind, we’re playing these games in a tournament format so there’s a trophy at stake – and we want to win it!”
Goalkeepers: Karen Bardsley (Manchester City), Mary Earps (Bristol Academy), Rachael Laws (Sunderland).
Defenders: Hannah Blundell (Chelsea), Lucy Bronze (Manchester City), Gilly Flaherty (Chelsea), Steph Houghton (Manchester City), Claire Rafferty (Chelsea), Alex Scott (Arsenal), Demi Stokes (Manchester City).
Midfielders: Isobel Christiansen (Manchester City), Laura Coombs (Chelsea), Jo Potter (Birmingham City), Jill Scott (Manchester City), Drew Spence (Chelsea).
Forwards: Eniola Aluko (Chelsea), Gemma Davison (Chelsea), Fran Kirby (Chelsea), Beth Mead (Sunderland), Lianne Sanderson (Portland Thorns), Jodie Taylor (Portland Thorns).