Its difficult to know what to make of the Women’s World Cup which has just seen the USA emerge as Wold Champions again; but let me give you my view anyway!
I thoroughly enjoyed watching the Lionesses in their pursuit of the ultimate prize in football and it was enjoyable to watch the ‘personality pieces’ as we heard various players’ background stories and got to know them as their characters shone through – all different but all with a story of determination to succeed in a sport which has been seen as ‘a bit of fun’ or even derided by football fans in general – well their World Cup campaign certainly put an end to that!
Women’s Football in England (along with a few of our European neighbours) has been professional for a couple of years now and the improvement in fitness and skill levels is there for all to see, albeit still lagging behind the USA in these areas where the game has been professional for longer and is actually played by more women and girls than men and boys – in fact, the USA squad are currently in significant conflict with their own governing body over equal pay with the men’s side, claiming that they are actually far more successful than their male counterparts… they have a point!
So, as a nation (almost) we sat down for England’s games and cheered on the side, desperately hoping they would be able to do what the men’s side have frequently failed to do and emulate their cricketing colleagues by being crowned Women’s World Champions.
However; as with the men’s team they fell short, losing to the USA at the semi-final stage and we genuinely felt for them at the final whistle as they fell to the ground, distraught at their failure to get to a final we all believed they could make. This is where I believe it becomes difficult to honestly assess the tournament from an England perspective – our desire to embrace the women’s game perhaps results in many sensible pundits being a little reticent in giving an assessment they believe in - but if the women’s team are to be judged upon their performance alone (and to a woman they insist that they do) they will have to get used to criticism – I saw several very lively debates across sports media outlets with cheerleaders for the women’s game taking genuine offence with those criticising the teams performance at the tournament.
Well tough! – the women’s game wants to be taken seriously (rightly so) and their performance was actually not good enough!
To finish fourth when the previous squad finished third is not progress and yes, we enjoyed their efforts but the bottom line is that as a national side we went backwards in France, not forwards.
We gave the ball away far too often and lacked the physicality of the USA team in certain areas – Lionesses Coach Phil Neville must also take some of the criticism being aimed at his players – he insisted to anyone who would listen that England could win the tournament and added that not reaching the final would be ‘failure’ – im sure he will learn but that is a dangerous statement to make for a Coach and it is certainly coming back to bite him!
He also managed to offend the 2015 squad by claiming (after his side had lost to Sweden) that the third and fourth place fixture was a ‘nonsense’ game - third place being something the 2015 girls were very proud in achieving – this , having said the day before the game they were ‘desperate’ to achieve third place.
All-in-all a fabulous tournament to watch and enjoy – but with improvements needed both on and off the field!