The tournament that threatened to promise so much, the Lionesses ranked third in the world and dubbed dark horses going into it, is all but over and England seem to have taken one step backwards. There is more in the way of mental strength, self-belief and physical conditioning but the football doesn’t seem to have progressed over the four-year cycle.
I still stand by the assertion that the team wouldn’t have been anywhere near this USA team four years ago had they met in the semi-finals. The mental strength and gumption a large enough factor in their ability to push the US and very nearly manage the ultimate, but their football let them down on the day.
In their second third-place final in two tournaments, the team didn’t attack the match with something to prove, there was no last-minute devastation to overcome, no forceful resolution to make. The comments after the match failed to align with what was said before kick-off, the suggestion the team didn’t care about the match, that bronze held no allure, strange and out of place if not downright arrogant. The match seemed to matter until it was lost, a touch of a tantrum from Phil Neville in his post-match comments, not an attractive look for anyone and they did little to hide the fact that his football had not been more profitable that that of his predecessor.
Tactics and team selection had let the team down, Neville and his team’s inability to react and adapt during the semi-final ultimately what cost them that converted final appearance. In his first ever World Cup, there is an argument that finishing fourth is acceptable but for Neville, who set the bar impossibly high for himself, the failure is amplified. The novice coach will have another year before he manages at another tournament – the second most important in women’s football – yet it seems unlikely [right now] that England/TeamGB will reach the final they desperately want to.
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