IT IS ON!
An England team surfing into a World Cup on a wave of hype? Check. The same team being touted as genuine contenders by its many media cheerleaders? Check. An opening group game against dangerously underrated opponents to whom few give a snowball’s chance in hell? Checkity, check check check. While there is no shortage of bores on social media disgraces who care so little about women’s football they seem compelled to spend their every waking hour droning on about how inferior it is to the men’s game, the parallels between England’s Lionesses pitching up for the Women’s World Cup and countless men’s teams arriving at major competitions before them are striking … and rather ominous for those of a cynical bent.
With tedious, pointless arguments about the perceived shortcomings of women’s football put to bed, tucked in and read a story by John Stones, Ross Barkley, Harry Maguire and Kyle Walker, the time for pointless comparisons is now over. The Women’s World Cup kicks off in Paris on Friday night, where an estimated 47,000 people are expected to convene for the tournament opener between hosts France and South Korea. The fact that there are other teams – 23 of them, in fact – apart from England competing may come as a surprise to anyone who has been following the coverage of Phil Neville’s side, who play their opening game against a comparatively unheralded and reclusive Scotland side in Nice on Sunday night.
“We’ve talked long and hard about it, we’ve not been shy about our expectations,” blurted Neville, following last weekend’s chastening warm-up defeat against New Zealand. “Now we need to deliver.” While England are widely expected to see off a Scotland team they thrashed 6-0 at Euro 2017, the line-up they will face this time is a completely different proposition. With several part-timers among their ranks at the time, Scotland’s players have since received government funding which enabled them to take six-month sabbaticals from their day jobs and focus solely on preparing for the World Cup. “It’s a massive difference now,” bugled defender Nicola Docherty. “We had a lot of [knack] two years ago but we’ve got a new coach [Shelley Kerr] now and a different style of play. We’re also properly fit.”
Meanwhile in the England camp, Toni Duggan has called for “equal criticism” of the women’s team, claiming the plaudits heaped upon them even when they play badly are rather patronising. “Is it just because we’re the women’s team?” she asked. “Is it just because we’re girls? If that was the men you wouldn’t be saying that. I’m not asking for journalists to criticise us all the time but it would be a sign of progress.” While the pre-tournament hype has mirrored that loaded on to assorted England’s men’s teams down the years, it seems it will take an abject and unwanted group stage humiliation to measure just how much media perceptions of the Lionesses have really changed.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“I can’t tell you what this means to Kiyan’s mum, to me, his brothers and sisters, his friends and people who have been supporting the work we have been doing. Kiyan would be blown away by what is going on” – Mark Prince, whose son was stabbed to death outside his school aged 15 when he broke up a fight in 2006, thanks the QPR fans who have chosen to rename Loftus Road as The Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium for next season.