BY NATHAN CARR
On Thursday, England crashed out of the Women’s Euro in bitterly disappointing and underwhelming fashion. They lost to France 3-0 in the final group game which condemned them to an embarrassing exit from the group stages.
The players performed well under what they are capable of and it seemed the intense scrutiny from the media (all of England’s games were broadcasted on the BBC) took its toll. This tournament presented a wonderful opportunity for Hope Powell’s girls to show the nation their progress and really make an impression. Instead, they did quite the opposite.
It’s been a hugely demoralising past few months for English football. It all began with the U21s who capitulated at the Euro Championships, costing manager Stuart Pearce his job. Then shortly after there were high expectations for the U20s at the World Cup but they also failed miserably. The women’s side had a chance to change things, but all their performances did was highlight the gulf in class between us and the rest of Europe.
The Lionesses heading into the competition on the back of some sparkling form and the statistics were right with them: before travelling to hosts Sweden they enjoyed an 11-game unbeaten run, winning the Cyprus Women’s Cup, beating Canada and holding world champions Japan. Confidence was in abundance and the team was tipped to shine.
However, no win in three group matches tells it all. A narrow defeat to Spain was followed by an underwhelming 1-1 draw against Russia. Then, last night, the thumping from France. Granted, it was a relatively tough group but to not even register three points is inexcusable. Seven goals conceded, just three scored.
Some people have looked to injuries as a possible reason. Defenders Rachel Unitt and Claire Rafferty were ruled out, left-back Stephanie Houghton, winger Karen Carney and key marksman Kelly Smith all had injuries in the build-up. Crucially, though, skipper Casey Stoney and midfield star Rachel Yankey both sustained knocks and this must not have helped with preparations.
But, taking that into account, the squad was still good enough to progress past the group stages. “We honestly don’t feel we’ve played to our full potential,” midfield engine Anita Asante said. “We know we have a lot more in us to display.”
Ultimately, too many players made vital mistakes. It would be harsh to blame certain individuals as it is about the collective. Silly and needless errors will be capitalised upon in major international football. This year the girls were a shadow of their 2009 Euro exploits where they reached the Final only to be on the receiving end of a trouncing from Germany.
Russia were in their group in that edition too, and England beat them. Yes, they made a huge struggle out of it after producing a fine comeback but they got the job done. Russia learned from it, recharged, worked doubly hard and look what happens this year: they earned the draw. It seems whilst we are stuck in a rut, other teams around Europe are rapidly improving. Something needs to be done.
Powell, who has been in charge for some 15 years overseeing 162 matches, has signaled she intends to stay on and make amends with the 2015 Women’s World Cup qualifying not too far away. It is up to the board to analyse the situation but there are murmurs her time might be up. She must learn from this experience and try and take the few positives available. Pearce was told his time was up after the U21s’ recent failure and it shows the FA are prepared to be ruthless. Whether it was the correct decision or not is irrelevant at this moment in time.
There is plenty of talent and diligence in the camp and with the right directing, the Lionesses have the capacity to be world beaters on the international stage. We all thought they were. But this recent episode has served to show they patently are not. England are ranked fourth in Europe, yet were unsuccessful in proving it. They return from Sweden swallowed in humiliation, red-faced and hopefully even more determined as they wilted under the immense pressure of one nation.
You can follow Nathan Carr on Twitter @_Carr16