Many regarded Manchester City left-back Demi Stokes as hugely unlucky to miss out on the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2015 squad that claimed Bronze in Canada four years ago. The 27-year-old, who grew up in South Shields (that’s where I’m from, so I’m always extra giddy, sorry Demi! – SK Ed), overcame that disappointment to become an important part of the UEFA Women’s Euro 2017 squad which reached the semi-final in the Netherlands.
Stokes was understandably delighted to be included in Phil Neville’s 23-player squad for France but was forced to sit out of training for the first few days and missed the Scotland game through injury. She was available for the 1-0 victory against Argentina but had to wait until England faced Japan, in the final group game, to finally make her World Cup bow.
A 2-0 win, with both goals coming in either half, from striker Ellen White, ensured England topped Group D and there were smiles all round.
“Obviously I’m buzzing to make my debut,” beamed Stokes, after the game. “It’s been a long time coming and obviously it’s even better with a win as well. And a clean sheet, of course, which is what you want as a defender. I’m proud of all of the team. It’s what we wanted, to finish with nine points and top of the group, so we are happy.”
“We have good depth in our team and anyone can come in. It’s good that other people got to play as well and we got the job done,” asserts Stokes.
This was White’s second and third strike (her third overall, all three scored in Nice – neatly, the city where Anthony Modeste, the originator of her goal celebration, began his career) of the tournament in only her second start and her clinical finishes punctuated two slick, killer moves.
“That’s what Ellen White does well,” says Stokes of her new Manchester City team-mate, “The plan obviously was to come out on the front foot and get at them because we wanted to win the game, it was important we started well because Japan are a good team.”
England had dominated the first 45’, with Rachel Daly and Georgia Stanway particularly lively and impressive, but Japan’s excellent passing game and movement tested England and put them under pressure for lengthy periods in the second half. The Lionesses, however, shored up by unflappable ‘keeper Karen Bardsley, held firm.
“We speak about it, there’s obviously going to be spells in the game where the other team have the ball quite a lot so it’s just being comfortable with that, staying organised, staying calm with it rather than being erratic and we did that well in the second half.”
So who does she fancy in the next round?
“We take each game as it comes. You’ve got to beat the best to be the best. We will go and recover and prepare for whomever we play next. We are in good form, in tournament football, each game you want to get better and I think we’re doing that, we’re moving in the right direction.”
Asked by a French journalist if she believes it is England’s year?
“Definitely. As footballers we want to be on the top stage and we want to come and win it.”