England have their first piece of silverware under Phil Neville, after the Lionesses sealed the #SheBelievesCup with an emphatic 3-0 win over Japan in Tampa yesterday evening. With a 2-1 comeback win over Brazil in the opener, and a topsy-turvy 2-2 draw with world champions USA, Neville watched his side see the job through against an experimental line-up from the Lionesses’ group opponents at this summer’s FIFA Women’s World Cup in France. It is a welcome achievement, though just one step along the way in a huge year for England, as he explained after the game…
On his feelings after winning the trophy:
I feel a bit flat, to be honest with you. No, I do! Because I think we want to go again in three days’ time; we quite like the intensity of these games. I think throughout my life I have always moved on pretty quickly, and on 87 minutes, I had moved on; moved on to April camps, started planning an April camp. That’s how it’s got to be really. This is nice, we’re happy, but for me, it’s small compared to where we want to be and this is just a first step on the ladder.
On how good it was to get so many of the squad out on the pitch this tournament:
That was the plan before the tournament. You play well against USA, you beat Brazil, and then players look at you and think you’ve been shouting your mouth off over the past 12 months about trusting the team, now let’s see what you’ve got.
There’s no doubt in my mind. When we did the huddle after the USA game I told all the players that didn’t play that they will be taking part. So it probably shocked them a little bit, but I’m not going to compromise on that; I think you’ve seen tonight that we gave a lot of opportunities to people and some have taken it.
You don’t get togetherness in a team with only 11 players. I learnt that in my career because I wasn’t always one of those 11 players all of the time, but I always felt a part of it because I was always given opportunities. We’re only as good as the bench and our strength comes from the bench. Including everyone, trusting everyone, believing in everyone, and everyone knowing the system has meant we have gone out there tonight and we won the SheBelieves Cup.
On if there is any update on Izzy Christiansen’s condition after she went off:
No, in the morning, we’ll assess her in the morning. It’s always the way with these injuries that you’ve got to leave it 24 hours. She’s been put on crutches for a precautionary measure to take the weight off the ankle, and we just pray, we pray to God that she is going to be okay.
It’s always that time when you get close to a major championship that you know you don’t want any injuries. Izzy’s such a vital part of what we want to build; she’s got an infectious personality. We are light in midfield from a selfish point of view, so we can’t afford any more injuries in that area.
On how winning the tournament might affect how England are now seen by competitors:
I’ve been reading what the other coaches and players have been saying about us and they’re obviously taking note. We are going to let them do the talking for us in terms of our strengths and weaknesses; we’ve just got to remain humble and with our feet on the ground, because the World Cup is not won today.
Like I said, this is the first rung on the ladder. We said 12 months ago when we stood out on the pitch and made the players watch USA lift that trophy, ‘remember that feeling, that’s your motivation for next year.’ On day one (this year), I asked the players a question, ‘remember that feeling last year?’ and they all remembered it. They all didn’t like it and that was their motivation going into the game today.
I actually thought we started a bit nervy and that was because they desperately wanted to win. They came through with some great play, great goals and in the end, we showed qualities that I love; that’s throwing themselves at the ball when probably three or four of my players probably couldn’t really feel their legs at that time and we stood firm.
On whether he thinks Keira Walsh has really come of age in this tournament:
Yes, outstanding. Outstanding.
I wanted to rest her today, I’ve got to be honest; that was probably my biggest decision. We changed the system a little bit today and I’d toyed with playing Lucy Staniforth there as a number four, but I felt it was a little bit unfair to play Lucy there, because she doesn’t play there for her club. I think she has got the ability to play there but I just thought today I wanted to play her in her best position to give her the best opportunity to succeed.
I spoke to Keira after the game against USA last year and we discussed how she felt after that tournament and she was really honest with me, and I was honest with her. We said ‘look, in the next 12 months we’ll get to where we want to get,’ and I think she’s come back now and I think if you are looking for other midfield players with her kind of quality – I don’t see any. I don’t see any with her kind of quality. I think she’s maturing, her personality is coming out now, I gave her the captaincy in Kazakhstan for a reason, and that was to give her the confidence and belief that the coach trusts her.
We’ve probably had our ups and downs as a coach/player relationship because I’ve left her out, I’ve left her off the bench for the Bosnia game and she wasn’t happy. I’ve rested her for the Brazil game at home in October, played her against Australia, so I’ve been really tough on her, to be honest with you, and there have been times when she’s probably thought ‘this coach doesn’t believe in me,’ but it was actually part of the bigger picture; keep geeing her up and we see Keira Walsh now, and as I say, as a midfield player in this tournament, I think she is probably the best.
On how much of an impact player/difference-maker Jodie Taylor is:
She’s not played in five months and I thought today she was unbelievable. I didn’t expect that kind of performance level. She came on the other night against the USA and what I thought when she came on, I think it was four-and-a-half minutes and, as soon as she came on, the USA started to back off. I thought ‘wow, they respect her because she obviously plays in this league (the NWSL).’
I thought she was sensational today, I really did. I thought with no minutes under her belt, the amount of work she put in over the last month-and-a-half has been phenomenal. I think she has got that hunger and that bite between her eyes. Between Ellen (White) and Jodie now, I’ve got a big decision to make; both probably different in the way that they play but equally effective within the squad, so we’ve got goals in the team. I actually thought Chi Ubogagu made an impact when she came on today. When we’ve been watching Chi, we thought to ourselves, ‘we need to see that speed.’ That speed on the counter-attack today was really good. So players have made impacts and given me problems.