An encouraging and historic third-place finish at the 2015 Women’s World Cup has fueled optimism among the players and head coach of England, which is one of several nations hoping to spring a surprise at the 2017 European Championships.
A nation hoping to lift the trophy will likely have to upset Germany and/or France, which are the favorites in the 16-team tournament to be
played in the Dutch locales of Utrecht, Rotterdam, Breda, Tilburg, Doetinchem, Deventer and Enschede starting on Sunday. The final is in Enschede Aug. 6.
(Games will be shown in the
U.S. on ESPN3.com. The final is scheduled to be aired on ESPNU.)
Eight of the 11 Women’s Euros and the last six in a row have been won by Germany. France’s
history in this tournament is one of perpetual disappointment – because of attitude and spirit rather than a deficiency in talent – but the current squad has shown signs of forbearance
that stamp it as a genuine challenger.
German midfielder Dzsenifer Marozsán is generally regarded as the world’s best at her position, and French defender Wendie
Renard is perhaps tops in her class.
“Germany will always be there or thereabouts but France are learning to progress in tournaments,” English midfielder Fara Williams
told The Guardian. Her penalty kick downed Germany, 1-0, in the 2015 World Cup
third-place playoff. “We know we’re capable of beating leading teams but the margins between Europe’s top sides are small. Spain could surprise people; they’re really
Spain is grouped with England, along with Scotland and Portugal, and head coach Mark Sampson believes his squad is stronger than the 2015 edition staged in
“We’re in a much better spot than 2015, in every area,” said Sampson. “In Canada, we had three players [Lucy Bronze, Steph Houghton and
Karen Bardsley] in the team of the tournament and finished third. Logic tells me we need five or six to finish first; I honestly believe we have that now.”
Now is an
important time for the women’s game in England and for its national team players, full-time professionals who earn salaries in excess of $60,000, stay in excellent hotels, and travel in business
class. Sampson’s predecessor, former international Hope Powell, fought a constant battle to raise the image of the women’s team and increase support and resources provided by the
English Football Association, but the club game is at a crossroads.
Attendances for Women’s Super League games are very modest; only Manchester City averages more than 2,000 per
game, and the median for some teams is less than 1,000. City and Chelsea are well-backed, but Notts County folded and Sunderland has become a part-time operation.
have got here without Hope,” says Williams. “Mark’s still having to knock on doors to get what we need but we’re certainly getting more than ever before. It can help us get
further than we’ve ever been. It’s no coincidence that Germany are very well looked after; top European teams have the resources."
Sampson is renowned for rotating players to
keep them hungry and sharp as well as papering over their technical limitations. So far, he’s been able to keep the players enthusiastic and committed to each other.
kicks off Sunday in Utrecht, where England is based, with the host country playing Norway, which lost to Germany in the last staging of the competition in 2013 and also in 2005. England lost to the
Germans in 2009. It starts its quest Wednesday against Scotland.
The opener is sold out and at least initially the tournament is receiving considerable exposure.