The controversy surrounding head coach Mark Sampson will not deflect his players from the quest to kick off their 2019 World Cup qualifying campaign with a victory over Russia at Tranmere Rovers tonight, insists captain Steph Houghton, as TONY LEIGHTON REPORTS.
Allegations by Chelsea striker Eni Aluko, who claims that Sampson made racist remarks to herself and her club colleague Drew Spence, are still under investigation following two inquiries, one by the FA and one independent.
As Manchester City central defender Houghton looked ahead to the meeting with Russia at Tranmere’s Prenton Park, she gave her full backing to the head coach.
She said: “Mark has always been a positive influence on me as a footballer and he has really driven this team on in the last three years. He gave me the captaincy and he’s shown massive faith in me as a player and a person to lead this team
“In the England environment I’ve never been present when there’s been any sight of racism or bullying. I’ve witnessed racism from the stands in Spain when I played for my previous club Arsenal in the Champions League, and it’s not very nice to hear – it’s a part of the game that we definitely have to try to stamp out.”
Houghton is set to lead England into World Cup qualifying just six weeks after the devastation of losing in the Euro 17 semi-final to the hosts the Netherlands.
“There’s no worse feeling than we had at the end of the semi-final,” she said, “mainly I think because that wasn’t a true representation of the England team we’d seen in the games up till then in the tournament.
“In hindsight though, I think it was a very good tournament for us. We’re now third in the world rankings, which is a fantastic achievement by the whole squad and the staff, and we can take the positives as well as what we can improve on.
“The focus now has to be on World Cup qualification, and we have to start off with a win against Russia together with a good performance.”
Sitting 22 places above the Russians in Fifa’s World Rankings, Sampson’s team will certainly be expected to beat them though it may be a tricky encounter.
They are the highest-ranked of England’s four group opponents, who also include Wales, and Houghton reckoned: “Russia are a very good team and we will have to be on our game to get the result we want.
“The first game back after a major tournament can be a tough one to try and get up for it mentally, but we have a lot of professionalism in the squad and we are totally focused on what we need to do to get three points.”
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SHE KICKS – Women’s Football Magazine