England face Scotland, Spain and Portugal at the European Championship
** "The team's greatest strength is its mentality"
** Sampson eager to make history with the Three Lionesses
The SheBelieves Cup, which was held in the USA for the second time in March, pitted together some of the best teams in the world. And for England's women's national team, it served both as a landmark occasion and as important preparation for the forthcoming UEFA Women's EURO in the Netherlands next month. The Three Lionesses* *sent out a statement of intent by recording an impressive 1-0 victory over the hosts.
"The expectations have definitely increased," England coach Mark Simpson told FIFA.com. "England used to go to tournaments with a level of hope, thinking they could maybe do well if they perform fantastically well. Now we're going to this tournament with a level of expectation – and it is not only from outside, but from the inside as well."
England's women's team have not yet won a major tournament. They finished as runners-up at the European Championships in 1984 and 2009, and were knocked out of the last continental showdown in 2013 in the group stage. Sampson, who took over as head coach in December 2013, is aiming to change all that this year.
"This is a team that wants to win and believes it can win," he said. "We do everything we can to give ourselves a chance of that. We take each game as it comes and we start with our match against Scotland. But we're six games away from making history and that’s our focus. Hard work is what wins you the European Championship. That hard work started a long time ago. Hopefully that'll put us in a good place by the time we arrive in Holland on 19 July."
The Welsh coach and his charges will meet Scotland, Spain and Portugal in Group D. Currently fourth in the FIFA/Coca-Cola Women's World Ranking, and therefore the best-placed team of the quartet, England are favourites to top the group. And in order to avoid another early elimination, preparations are already in full swing. "We're in good nick and are looking forward to this event," said the 34-year-old.
"But we still have a lot of hard work to do and we're not yet where we want to be," he continued. "I want to make sure that by the time we arrive in July that we're a better version of England than we are right now. The team's greatest strength is its mentality. We'll certainly be difficult to beat this summer. We'll find a way to win every match, and we'll refuse to go home until we're the last ones to go home. We're aware of what it's going to take and how hard it'll be. We're excited by the challenge and as long as we believe in ourselves we can go a long way, make history this summer and then turn our focus towards 2019."
The message is certainly clear for his side's rivals. Furthermore, Sampson is aware of how important success would be for women's football in England: "We still talk about the guys who won the 1966 World Cup, so it would be special if we go a long way this summer and make a big difference to the game. A lot of hard work is going on at a grassroots level behind the scenes to grow this game. Hopefully the national team can get the boost it deserves because whatever happens this summer we're all going to give our best."