So here we are, back stateside for the 5th edition of the SheBelieves Cup and after what seems like several years since we last saw the Lionesss in action. Orlando, Harrison and Frisco will set the stage for this 2020 tournament that sees Spain join last year’s competitors, England, Japan and of course the USA.
Each of these teams will be using this friendly tournament for vastly different reasons. Japan and the USA will be getting in the preparation for this summer’s Olympics. For Spain, it will be a good test to see where the team are in this competition free year.
For the Lionesses, this tournament is an important stepping stone as they head into the next two years. Selection for Team GB is around the corner but the unique situation that comes with that – having to factor in players from three other nations into an 18-player squad – means that this can’t be the focus right now. Phil Neville for his part has made this very clear:
“This is an England camp. The work being done for the Olympics is being done outside of camps. I can’t impact on the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland players so it would be unfair for me to go to the SheBelieves and talk about the Olympics. I have stopped all of my staff talking about the Olympics, and I will stop the players talking about the Olympics. We are here to play for the Lionesses.”
Instead, what is clear is that it is a brilliant opportunity to get England back into form against some of the world’s best. With a poor run of results at the close of last year, there were quite rightly many questions being asked about where the Lionesses under Neville were headed. With a three-month break behind them, good performances over the next 10 days will do a lot to quell the doubts.
It is also a chance for the younger players to step up and get experience as a senior Lioness. 18 months out from hosting Euro 2021, Phil Neville has announced a squad that has a nice blend of old and new to it. Giving youth a chance is something that he has not been afraid to do during his tenure and the inclusion of Chloe Kelly, Lauren Hemp, Alessia Russo and others shows the faith he has in the next generation:
“They deserve to be in the squad…I think when I saw these young players play in France a few years ago in the U20 World Cup, I realised then that we’ve got a special bunch of players. The nucleus of that team is going to break into the squad together; they’re going to hunt in packs together; they’re going to protect each other; they’re going to support each other. I think now’s the right time, having planned it for the last 12 months, to bring them into the squad and expose them to what is probably the best tournament outside of the major tournaments. Until you give young people an opportunity, you never know if they can step up and that’s what we’re going to do in She Believes.”
So what is the expectation for this tournament? As holders, many will be expecting England to repeat the same feats as last year. However, there does have to be some realism about where this team is at, especially when facing the likes of the USA who have already played competitive football this year. The absence of Lucy Bronze and Beth Mead is a blow and combine this with young players who have only a handful of minutes for the senior side, this is a transitional phase for this team.
However, there are many of the squad who are in fantastic form for their clubs and can pose plenty of threat to any side. Bethany England is currently the best striker in the FAWSL; Leah Williamson is playing the best football of her career to date; Jordan Nobbs is looking back to her best; Ellen White is Ellen White…the list goes on. The challenge now for Neville and his staff is to harness this into performing well for the national team.
USA v England (00:00 GMT; 06.03.2020)
Japan v England (18:15 GMT; 08.03.2020)
England v Spain (21:15 GMT; 11.03.2020)