Sampson eyeing dream start

Published: Monday 8th June 2015 by The News Editor

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Mark Sampson has urged England to be have-a-go heroes and make a dream start to the Women’s World Cup by beating France.

The testing opener for Sampson’s Lionesses in the New Brunswick city of Moncton on Tuesday comes against the side that eliminated them on a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-finals four years ago.

Head coach Sampson is confident his players can counter the French threat with attacking prowess of their own.

However it will not have passed Sampson’s attention that the opposition are also the side who effectively ended the 15-year reign of his predecessor Hope Powell by inflicting a brutal 3-0 defeat on England at Euro 2013.

That was Powell’s final game, as England slumped out of the tournament in the group stage.

Defeat this time would not be immediately as costly, as England will be favoured to beat Mexico and Colombia in their later Group F games, but Sampson wants to start the tournament in Canada on a positive note, while being fully aware of France’s quality.

“It’s going to be a tough game, isn’t it?” he said.

“We’re playing many people’s tournament favourites, we’re playing against some huge individual talents.

“Now, more than they’ve ever had, France have got a real collective ethic as well. It’s going to be a huge challenge for us, but we’ll do what we always do: we’ll focus on ourselves, and make sure we pick a team that can deal with France and give them as many problems as possible.

“We’ll make it as difficult an afternoon as we possibly can for France, and I think we’ve got a group of people who can do that.”

England almost pinched a draw against the United States in February when a hyper-cautious defensive effort saw them beaten 1-0 by the team currently second in the FIFA rankings, one place ahead of France. Jodie Taylor saw what should have been an equalising goal wrongly disallowed for offside that day.

When it was put to him that England might reprise the tactics from that match, Sampson said: “We need to throw a bit more back.

“Sometimes you can take punishment, you can take a hit. We’ve got to make sure we balance up the areas of our game in terms of making sure we’re a threat with the ball, to keep them guarded at the back, and making sure that without the ball we’re very resolute and compact, and we’re in a position to make France’s life difficult.

“They have got some talents and if you don’t pay attention to those talents they’ll punish you, but we’ve got to make sure they’re aware of our talents and those talents express themselves as well.”

The Moncton Stadium where the Lionesses begin their campaign against Les Bleues controversially had its grass pitch torn up last year and replaced with artificial turf.

The tournament is a grass-free zone, which prompted a host of angered leading players to claim FIFA was guilty of gender discrimination and go so far as to launch a lawsuit against world football’s governing body and the Canadian Soccer Association, which was withdrawn only in January.

England have been largely passive observers of the row. Liverpool Ladies play on an artificial pitch in Widnes and Football Association officials are optimistic the surfaces will prove no more dangerous than grass.

England could do without a rash of injuries caused by plastic pitches, but unusually they do not have a defined first XI or even a predictable formation, which is how 32-year-old Welshman Sampson likes it.

Sampson said: “People will mention that might be a problem for us, but one thing I’m certain of is that it’ll definitely be a problem for our opponents.”

Published: Monday 8th June 2015 by The News Editor

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