- England moved to all-time Ranking high in March
- Phil Neville’s side occupy second spot behind world champions USA
- Can Lionesses improve on 2015 bronze finish at France 2019?
While reigning FIFA Women’s World Cup champions USA look difficult to displace at the top of the FIFA/Coca-Cola Women’s World Ranking, there’s one team across the Atlantic Ocean that are continuing their assault for the No1 spot.
England moved to an all-time high of second place in the Ranking last month after an impressive showing at the SheBelieves Cup. Phil Neville’s side finished runners-up in the round-robin tournament featuring heavyweights France, Germany and hosts USA, narrowly losing to the latter on the final matchday in Orlando.
Though they missed out on glory Stateside, England’s exploits at the SheBelieves Cup saw them leapfrog Germany – who fell out of the top two for the first time since June 2009 – in March’s Ranking to record their highest position on the global ladder to date. It was a welcome fillip according to Neville.
"Going up to second [in the Ranking] has given us a little bit of a boost, but we have got a long way to go. We are still a bit off the USA," said former Three Lions defender Neville, who took charge of the women’s national in January 2018.
"Physically we are not at their level but technically we are getting closer - although we have got a little way to go, but there is nothing that scares me in terms of closing that gap."
England came agonisingly close to booking a place in the 2015 Women’s World Cup Final, conceding an injury-time own-goal against Japan in the final four. They then showed admirable grit and determination to bounce back in the match for third place, however, defeating Germany thanks to a Fara Williams extra-time penalty in Edmonton.
Since taking bronze at Canada 2015, and reaching another semi-finals of a major tournament at UEFA EURO 2017, the Lionesses have experienced a steady rise in the Ranking en route to last month's record high.
"The most important thing is to be successful on the field," said Neville. "Being second in the world is an unbelievable achievement. But for me, as a coach, you want to be the best - you get nothing for being second. We want to be the best in our field.
"Ultimately, we need to win World Cups. And if we win the World Cup next year, then I really think the world is our oyster for the women’s game."
A six-time English Premier League winner with Manchester United before bringing his playing career to a close with Everton, Neville took his first steps into international management at the beginning of this year with the Lionesses. The former Three Lions defender succeeded interim coach Mo Marley after the departure of previous permanent manager Mark Sampson and is the person tasked with guiding England to France 2019.
"Phil brings a lot of experience with his playing background – he knows what it takes to win and win consistently," said Nikita Parris, England’s top goalscorer in France 2019 qualifying, in conversation with FIFA.com in February.
"Going forward, we want to go from third to first in the world and in order to do that, we must adopt a winning mentality mindset. I’m sure Phil will help facilitate that by pushing us at every moment."
Gunning for top spot
Undefeated on the road to France 2019, England currently sit top of Group 1, two points ahead of neighbours Wales, as they continue their quest to book an automatic berth at the global finals.
Simply qualifying for the global finals, though, is not enough for Neville, who has his sights set on eventually wrestling the No1 spot from leaders USA.
"My objective is to make us the best team in the world," said Neville. "The thing I’ve learned very quickly is that these girls want success so badly. When we got to second in the world, I thought: ‘Wow’.
"But imagine what it would be like if we do get to first? And we will get to first - I’m absolutely certain of it."