CHRISTIAN RADNEDGE in VANCOUVER: England head coach Mark Sampson says there are no underdogs left in the FIFA Women’s World Cup after his side beat hosts Canada 2-1 to progress to the semi-finals.
Early goals from Jodie Taylor and Lucy Bronze were enough to break Canadian hearts in Vancouver’s BC Place, although a reply from Christine Sinclair meant the home side were pressing all the way until the end for an equaliser.
A first ever World Cup semi-final beckons for Sampson’s side, who had to deal with pressure not just on the pitch but from the record 54,027 crowd who were roaring their support for the hosts.
England will face a similarly tough tie against holders Japan on Wednesday. But Sampson believes his side, ranked sixth in the world, are more than capable of rising to the challenge.
“At this stage I’m not sure there are any underdogs,” he said. “We’re delighted to still be here. This team has shown incredible resilience, incredible character and togetherness to still be in this tournament. You look at our results and performances; we dominated against an excellent French team up until the last minute.
“We’ve played well and dominated against a strong Mexico and Colombia team, and these two games have been about grinding out results, about staying in the tournament and our players have done that.
“They’ve shown quality with the ball, with their defensive structure and they’ve shown a desire I’ve never seen from England team before to hang on in there and get this team through to the next round.”
One concern for Sampson going into Wednesday’s match against Japan, who beat Australia 1-0 to progress themselves, is the fitness of goalkeeper Karen Bardsley.
The Manchester City player was taken off early in the second half because of an allergic reaction on her right eye. Sampson confirmed Bardsley would be checked at a hospital but that it was too early to say whether or not she would play in the semi-final.
Her replacement Siobhan Chamberlain had only 30 seconds to warm-up before being introduced but was able to prevent Canada scoring an equaliser.
Head coach John Herdman, himself an Englishman, was visibly devastated after the match and said he was “gutted” for all of Canada.
“The resilience of the players to just keep fighting was phenomenal” he added. “They should be proud of what they did tonight. They gave that group of fans their best. That’s it. And our best just wasn’t good enough.”
Herdman also refused to point the finger of blame at Lauren Sesselmann whose mistake led to Taylor’s opener.
He said: “I’m not going to hide from mistakes players made, but that girl did well tonight to recover from that and to show that resilience – I mean you just imagine what was going through her head and she just came out fighting”.
Wednesday’s showdown will be the first World Cup semi-final for any England senior side since 1990, when the men’s national team lost to West Germany on penalties in Italy.
Sampson will be hoping for no tears in Edmonton.