Williams backs Sampson’s tactics


Published: Tuesday 30th June 2015 by The News Editor

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Marauding midfielder Fara Williams has backed tinkerman boss Mark Sampson to steer England into the Women’s World Cup final.

A thrilling campaign for the Lionesses can reach a historic climax with glory in Vancouver on Sunday night, but first they must handle reigning world champions Japan in their Edmonton semi-final on Wednesday.

Manager Sampson, a 32-year-old Welshman plucked from Bristol Academy in late 2013 to succeed long-serving Hope Powell, promised before the tournament he would shuffle his teams to counter England’s opposition and has been as good as his word.

Williams, 31, who has stretched her record haul to 145 caps during England’s run, is one of just three players to have started every game, alongside captain Steph Houghton and goalkeeper Karen Bardsley.

Sampson’s mix-and-match policy would have faced intense scrutiny if England bowed out early, but the former Swansea academy chief has struck on a Midas touch.

“We met up as a squad of 35 in a hotel after Christmas and Mark sat down with the whole squad and told us the whole selection process,” Williams told Press Association Sport.

“He told us how he was looking to select the team come the World Cup. We knew the route we could potentially be taking.

“Mark’s known his teams for each of the games and he told everybody he was going to pick teams that he felt would best suit the opposition, and he’s done that fantastically well.

“The whole team has bought into what he’s been doing and we’re continuing to build momentum.

“While he’s getting the results, we’re not complaining.”

Sampson announced his team to face Japan in a squad meeting on Monday, which for England was a “classroom” day, spent away from the training pitch and learning about the opposition.

“They’re world champions so we’ve got to remember that,” Williams said.

“You don’t become world champions through luck. We have to respect what they achieved four years ago, but not show too much respect where we don’t go out and do our job.

“We’ve got a game plan our staff believe will give us the result we want on Wednesday against Japan and I’m sure it’ll be the right one.”

Bright news for England is that Bardsley will be fit to face Japan, having been substituted during the quarter-final win over Canada due to an apparent allergic reaction that caused her right eye to swell.

As a player, Sampson went no further than semi-professional football in the Welsh leagues. As a manager, his profile is growing by the game.

“Mark deserves every credit he’s going to get for what he’s done with this team and how he’s turned the team around in this past 18 months, not just on the pitch but off the pitch,” Williams said.

“He’s brought this group of players together. Myself and some of the senior players have been here a long time and probably haven’t felt as together as this team is, and that’s a credit to Mark and his staff that have really tried to build this spirit that we have.”

Williams, who spent seven years living in hostels after a family breakdown, was helped out when at her lowest ebb by former England boss Powell. She remains thankful for that support, but it is quite obvious that even Williams felt England were not equipped for success during the latter years of Powell’s reign.

A shocking performance at Euro 2013, when England mustered one point in three group games, was the nadir, and Powell was sacked swiftly afterwards.

In have come players who considered themselves alienated by Powell, such as Jodie Taylor, Lianne Sanderson and Katie Chapman. Sampson is revered by his players, who have rewarded his faith by performing to their peak in Canada.

“As a squad we’ve always believed we can achieve something,” Williams said.

“It’s a matter of getting everything right. It’s not just about getting things right on the pitch, you’ve got to have everything off the pitch right, with the environment, the atmosphere, the players buying into things.

“If you haven’t got a happy camp then sometimes no matter how good you are the work on the pitch doesn’t always come off.

“So far we’ve got everything right. If we get past Japan and get to a World Cup final it would be an unbelievable achievement for everyone involved.

“We’re not going to hide away from the fact we are excited about what we’ve achieved so far, and what more we want to achieve from this World Cup.

“But we’re not at the excited state where our mind is off the prize, because our focus is the prize, and getting the right result against Japan.”

Published: Tuesday 30th June 2015 by The News Editor

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