By Tony Leighton
England will have not just the world’s best team to deal with but a hostile, intimidating atmosphere created by loudly passionate home fans when they kick off their She Believes Cup campaign against the USA in Florida tonight.
But that twin threat will not faze Mark Sampson’s team, says captain Steph Houghton, after overcoming a similar situation in last year’s World Cup quarter-final to beat host nation Canada in front of a 54,000 crowd at Vancouver.
“It felt like we were up against the whole country, but it brought out the best in us and we came through really well,” recalled Manchester City defender Houghton, who went on to lead her team to a bronze medal at the tournament.
“It’s going to be another big crowd here in Florida,” she added, “but the experience from Canada will stand us in good stead and we’re very excited about the challenge of playing the best team in the world in their own back yard.”
Just how big a challenge for England is illustrated by the fact that World Cup winners America have lost only once on home soil in the last 12 years – and, additionally, that England have beaten them only once in the last 28 years.
It’s a similar story with the other two teams in the four-nation tournament, Germany and France, who are respectively ranked second and third in the world behind the USA while England sit fifth in Fifa’s rankings.
France have not lost to England in 16 meetings since 1974 while the Lionesses have beaten Germany only once in the 22 matches between the two teams. Crucially, however, that win came in last year’s World Cup bronze medal tie.
Houghton said: “Beating Germany for the first time, especially in such a high pressure situation, was a huge confidence boost – but we’d been getting better and better throughout the tournament and knew we capable of beating them.
“Now we have to believe we can beat all the teams in this tournament. It’s going to be tough because we’re up against the world’s top three – but it’s a great opportunity to be not only competing with but beating the best.”