TILBURG, Netherlands – England will look to do something that no other EURO 2017 team has done when they take on Portugal on Thursday night. A Lionesses win and a clean sheet would result in England being the only team to qualify for the quarterfinals with an unblemished record in group play. England’s 6-0 win over Scotland and 2-0 win over Spain have shown that they are the top side heading into the knockout round.
While fans, pundits, and curious onlookers have all locked in an England quarterfinals match in Deventer, the Lionesses aren’t ready to put the cart before the horse. Portugal is next, and that’s exactly what the focus has been leading up to another crucial match.
“I think it’s going to be a completely different game than Spain,” said Ellen White. “We’re excited [about] facing Portugal. Obviously they’ll be full of confidence and momentum after beating Scotland 2-1. I’m excited to face them, and hopefully we can get another three points.”
England midfielder Jill Scott has been a dominant force in the midfield. She’s been first to balls, and has linked up well with White, Fran Kirby, and Jodie Taylor. Scott and her teammates will be ready for whatever Portugal brings. We’ve seen England play an all out offensive attack against Scotland and a defensive wall versus Spain. The versatile style and ability to adapt has England capable of matching wits with any opponent.
“We’ll definitely be going for three wins,” Scott said. “With this team, you can’t tell them anything else. Every time we step out on to that pitch, we want to win. I didn’t get a chance to watch Portugal the other day, but I’m sure we’ll switch our analysis to them. We’ll expect another tough game, and hopefully we can put in another performance. We’ve shown a couple of sides to us now.”
It’s going to be a special match for right back Lucy Bronze. The Manchester City defender has Portuguese heritage and at one point in her career, she had serious discussions about representing Portugal on the international stage. If selected, this will be the first time she will step on the pitch against Portugal at any level of competition.
“It’ll be really exciting,” said Bronze. “I know a couple of the girls quite well, especially [Boston Breakers midfielder] Amanda Da Costa. Obviously, they speak the language that I was brought up around with my dad and my family. Half of them are Portuguese, and we visit a lot. I’ve never played against them, youth or senior age group. It’ll be interesting, and quite nice to play against them in the final group game.”
The Bronze family won’t have a divided interest. They will be supporting England through,and through. The 25 year-old Bronze, wants to see her team continue to grow, and improve as the tournament progresses. Playing against Portugal will definitely feel a little different, but at the end of the night, three points are there for the taking.
“We want all nine points,” a confident Bronze said. “We want to keep three clean sheets. I think it stands us in good stead to get through to the quarterfinal, and it keeps the momentum going. Who knows who we could get if we qualify through. Portugal are obviously in our way, but we’re hoping for a good game and another strong performance.”
Looking ahead, France is off in the frontier with a possible quarterfinals showdown looming. England haven’t beaten France since 1974, a nineteen match winless streak. The EUROs could be just the cup of tea England needs to finally break la resistance of France. If England finish first in Group D and France second in Group C, it’s all set.
“I think it’s exciting,” said Bronze. “We love playing against France. It’s a common opposition who we’ve been playing in a lot of friendlies. Obviously with the SheBelieves Cup, it’s Germany and France, a lot of teams that we come up against regularly. I know at the SheBelieves Cup, we were in preseason maybe missing a bit of fitness. I think if we played them again, it could be a completely different result.”
The way England performed under the guidance of Mark Sampson, you wouldn’t want to wager against them beating France or any other side. They turned up and defeated the United States at the SheBelieves Cup, and they’ve continued on a path of firsts. With that being said, Jill Scott isn’t ready to talk about France. She’s all in on Portugal right now.
“I don’t like to get too carried away,” she revealed. “I don’t want to be too football cliché, but I’ve been involved in a lot of tournaments now. Sometimes you can start looking too far ahead. I always just focus on the next job. As soon as the whistle went, straight in the ice bath, and start preparing for Portugal.”
England vice-captain Jordan Nobbs has put in a pair of terrific matches. She’s been on her mark, both offensively and defensively, contributing a volley goal against Scotland and an assist on Taylor’s tally against Spain. The Arsenal Ladies player has had an eye on other matches throughout the tournament. She knows France is a distinct possibility.
“Obviously, we’ve watched the games,” admitted Nobbs. “Whoever you get in the quarters, you can’t help who comes. We’ve just got to be prepared for that, and focus on our next group game to start with. Whoever we face will just be the luck of the draw.”
The 24-year-old Nobbs is competing in her second European Championship tournament. England were knocked out in the group stage at Sweden in EURO 2013. The Lionesses have a completely different feel, look, and confidence about them four-years onwards.
Is it a surprise to see England achieving, and reaching new heights?
“I don’t think so,” Nobbs said. “I think people were talking about England before the tournament and during the tournament. I think we believed as a squad how far we can go and who we can be.”
If England believe in themselves, so should everyone else. They are the only team yet to concede a goal, and they did so playing two completely different tactical styles. It’s going to take an opponent at the peak of their game to beat England. As of now, it’s not clear who is playing better than England and who will be able to flip that switch and beat them.
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