The Raymond James mega stadium in Tampa, Florida was almost empty as England and Japan took to the pitch for the first of a double header that could decide the winners of the SHE BELIEVES CUP before World Champions USA played Brazil in the closing match on a cold Floridian evening.
After half an hour it was virtually GAME OVER with the Three Lionesses 3-0 ahead of the Blue Samurai. The Asians were World Champions in 2011 and runners up to USA at Canada 2015 but had an inexperienced squad this time. England won bronze in Canada and are ranked 4th by FIFA with Japan 8th. The two teams play each other again next June in the group stages.
Two summers ago Mark Sampson's team lost 3-0 to hosts Netherlands in the EUROS semi-final, but hardly put a foot wrong in the FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign. September 19th 2017 I was at Prenton Park, Birkenhead when England thrashed Russia 6-0. The next morning Sampson was fired over previous problems.
Phil Neville from the Class of '92 took over despite no experience of the womens game. He and his brother Gary are very experienced players and his twin sister Tracey Neville is the successful England Roses netball coach. He has quietly done a marvellous job with the women and will have a squad of 23 in France, all experienced and capable of contributing.
Most play in the well financed FA WSL League for clubs such as Manchester City, Liverpool, Birmingham, Arsenal and Chelsea with very short travel times compared with the USA national league for example, and Brazil don't have a national league any more. After beating Brazil 2-1 in Chester PA they tied champions USA 2-2 in front of 22,000 fans in Nashville TN before the circus moved to Tampa.
Some play abroad. Lucy Bronze and Issy Christiansen at Lyon. Toni Duggan at Barcelona, Jodie Tayor, Seattle Reign. Rachel Daly, Houston Dash, Mary Taylor, Wolfsburg, Chioma Ubogagu Orlando Pride.
Lucy Staniforh opened the scoring in the 11th minute then Karen Carney 10 minutes later with a header followed by a third from Beth Mead.of Arsenal.
The trophy was won even before USA downed Brazil 1-0 in front of 8,500 fans later on. The only other trophy England have is the Cyprus Cup
Neville thought it was a SENSATIONAL PERFORMANCE from his team. He had made 8 changes since Nashville and wanted to see who was capable of being worthy of a place at France 2019. "Before the tournament I wasn't bothered whether we won or lost. I just wanted to see an improvement. We just keep listening to USA, Japan and Brazil saying how good we are".
Preparations will continue with THE ROAD TO FRANCE series at home to Canada, Spain, Denmark and New Zealand. Adult tickets purchased in advance are only £7.50 with seniors and children just £1.00. The Tour kicks off at Academy Stadium Manchester City Friday 5th April v Canada, followed by Spain 9th April County Ground Swindon, v Denmark 25th May at Banks Stadium Walsall, and finally New Zealand June 1st At The Amex in Brighton.
Their World Cup opener is against Scotland in Nice on June 9th.