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“THIS is the type of game where there are no excuses — it’s the biggest game the England women’s team have ever had in terms of the size of the game,” declared England head coach Phil Neville ahead of their sold-out match against Germany at Wembley Stadium tomorrow.
“We want to win the game. It’s not a game for rotation. It’s a game against the second-best team in the world where we will need all our best players on the pitch.”
Attempting to explain England’s post-World Cup slump in which they have lost four of their last six matches, it is Neville’s belief that not having to play qualifying matches for the 2021 European Championships they are hosting is affecting his team’s mentality on the pitch.
“Even tomorrow, with the magnitude of the game, there’s no three points at stake, it does take away the edge from it. That creates that real hunger, desire to win the games. I was speaking to the French coach about their build-up to the World Cup, she said it was a disaster in terms of taking them to that real edge.
“They had a period of friendlies like we’ve got. Everyone knows we need a performance tomorrow. We’re going to have massive occasions at the Euros where the stadiums are going to be absolutely full, the expectation is going to be like it has been for the last three or four weeks. We need to play under this kind of pressure and expectation.”
The Lionesses have never defeated Germany in nine previous home matches but Neville boasted about his own undefeated record against them as an international player.
“The game in Charleroi (during Euro 2000) was my first experience of the rivalry between both countries. We had Kevin Keegan, who played in Hamburg and knew the rivalry. It was the supporters really, when you come into these type of games, it’s the fans that remember the rivalry.”
He went on to speak about how life has changed for his players since their last match at Wembley against the same opposition in 2014.
“The sacrifices now are even greater because the rewards are even greater. In the past, they could have probably gone out for a coffee down Wembley Way. That’s what my players want to do. There are 90,000 men, women coming to that game tomorrow which means they can’t go down Wembley.
“That is a performance decision that they have got to make. It’s fun seeing the journey that they are taking.”
Manchester City’s Jill Scott is one of nine Lionesses who played in that game five years ago in which the Germans comfortably won 3-0.
“It was a learning curve,” she said. “I remember, Germany played a lot better than us on the day. It was a fantastic occasion, I think there were over 40,000 people — and to think hopefully that number will be doubled tomorrow. That just shows the progress the women’s game is making.”
When asked what his greatest wish was coming out of tomorrow’s game, Neville said “that these 86,000 people come back. I also want to come back to Wembley, I want to do this yearly and yearly and yearly and make this a regular occurrence, I know that’s what The FA are working towards as well.
“To do that, we have to put on a spectacle tomorrow, we have to put on a really good game, we have to perform. When people and fans are inspired, they are inspired by what happens on the field, that’s what I believe fully, that was what I was like as a kid and tomorrow my players have to inspire those young girls.”
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