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Women's Football SheBelieves Cup crucial in a World Cup year

The tournament kicks off in the United States tomorrow as England aim to pick up some momentum on the road to France, writes ASIF BURHAN

ONE hundred days before the start of the Women’s World Cup in France, Phil Neville’s Lionesses take part in the fourth SheBelieves Cup in the United States, once again taking on the hosts and world champions but this time also Brazil, who they defeated four months ago in Nottingham, and Japan, who they will face in the finals group stage in Nice.

On announcing his 23-player squad last week, England manager Neville said: “The SheBelieves Cup is a fantastic tournament and I’ll never forget my first game in charge against France a year ago.

“All four nations are among the top eight in the Fifa rankings so we know we’ll be tested and need to be at our best in all three matches.

“The tournament is a vital stage in our preparations ahead of the World Cup for our staff and players, but it’s important to note the door is not shut to any player with ambitions of making the World Cup squad.”

Tomorrow in Philadelphia, England take on Brazil. An early Fran Kirby goal separated the teams in October but Brazilian coach Vadao is looking forward to the rematch. 

“Of course, the goal of playing an important tournament like this, being at our physical apex, is also assessing the strong opponents we will face.”

On Saturday night in Tennessee England will pit their wits against the United States, the No 1-ranked team in the world and favourites to retain the World Cup this summer. 

Their coach Jill Ellis feels the more varied line-up of the tournament this time will aid her team’s World Cup preparations.

“I do think our schedule is going to test us and I think that’s what we need. In terms of the types of teams we’re playing, we’re going to play Japan, preparing for an Asian opponent I think is important. 

“We’re obviously going to play Brazil, a South American team. I think we’ve got a lot of the styles that we will face in the World Cup. For us it’s about getting better and better. 

“This is what these players are excited to do. I think if you ask any of them, they’ll say: ‘Yeah, we’ve done well, but we need and we can be better.’ 

“I think that’s an exciting mindset about this group of players. There’s a lot of talent there.”

Orlando Pride striker Alex Morgan goes into the tournament two goals short of becoming the seventh US player to score 100 international goals. 

“I have to think about it when a lot of people bring that up. Typically I don’t over-think the number of goals that I’ve scored but obviously 100 is a huge landmark, so I’m looking forward to that.”

After scoring 18 goals herself in an unbeaten 2018, Morgan knows that the United States must bounce back from the shock of defeat to World Cup hosts France in Le Havre last month. 

“Every game is so important to us, there’s no such thing as a friendly match. I think that this team always carries that pressure to win every game for sure. 

“We carry a great responsibility in this team because I think that we are an inspiration for so many young girls around the world and continue to demand more opportunity and equality for young girls in sports. I think it’s great what this team has been able to do historically and what we continue to do and carry on the traditions of this team with.”

England’s final game in Florida next Tuesday will be their first meeting with Japan since their harrowing World Cup semi-final defeat to the Nadeshiko four years ago in Edmonton. 

Only nine of the 2015 squad travel this time but former Estonia coach Keith Boanas believes that “the psychological elements will for sure come into play for many of our players but I have no doubt the management will have that angle covered.” 

Aiming to reach a third successive World Cup final, Japanese coach Asako Takakura said: “I have chosen players with great expectations. As our first tournament in the year of the World Cup, we will be facing three top-notch teams in the world who all employs different styles. 

“This tournament will give us the opportunity to test our current strengths as well as to see what we need to do to win the World Cup.”

Having to play against Japan again in the World Cup will make no difference to Neville’s approach. “We’ve just got to win the game! That’s the best thing for us. Win the game and put a marker on Japan. 

“Because then when we come to June and we’re playing them in the third match, they’ll have that marker in their heads of what we did to them in March.”

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