Ahead of England’s u20 game against Japan in the semi-final of the World Cup qualifiers, Mo Marley and Liverpool’s Niamh Charles took part in a press conference in Vannes.
Here are a few quotes from what they told us.
About reaching the semi-finals:
“We are happy as a team, we have done very well to come this far, we are enjoying the experience. We are looking forward to the semi-final”
About playing Japan behind-closed-doors in June:
“It was a good time to see what we were at, we had a good head start of what they are all about. It was good for the team to get to know that style of football.”
On the current squad mood:
“Spirits are high. It is the first time we made it to the semi-final.
“Obviously [we] try to balance that energy and [are] refocusing on the semi-final. The camp is in high spirits, as you can imagine. We are in the preparation phase. We had yesterday to recover, today we had a training session. The idea is to build on and improve on what we have done in the previous matches.”
On defending and if it would be likely to win the game
“I think in the group stage we had to show a high level of discipline and organisation to help us achieve the semi-finals.
“Obviously, we know the ability of the team we are facing now. We would have liked not to concede goals in the previous games. I think we conceded [and] it actually brought the best out of us.
“At the higher level, you go in the competition, the more disciplined and the more tight the defence have to be to give yourself the best chance to progress into the next round.”
On the behind-closed-doors friendly against Japan in June:
“We invited Japan over. We had to play in the World Cup a while and it was important to play a team of this caliber. The tradition, the standard, gave us a true a reflection of where we really where, on the day they were better than us but the lessons we got from playing them back in England were invaluable. That gave us a good foundation for the kind of performance we actually put in during the tournament.”
“England are clearly in a positive mood and looking forward to a tough game against Japan and they certainly believe they can make it to the final.”
England defeated the Netherlands 2-1 in their u20 World Cup qualifier on Friday, setting up a semi-final appearance on Monday.
Coming from 1-0 down thanks to FIFA’s Player of the Match, Georgia Stanway who got a brace, England will now play Japan in the semi-final on Monday.
For this quarter-final against the Netherlands, Mo Marley made a change with Georgia Allen coming in for the suspended Mollie Rouse.
The other 10 players were the usual starters in the classic 4-3-3- system: Sandy MacIver; Anna Patten, Grace Fisk, Megan Finnigan, Mayumi Pacheco; Chloe Peplow, Georgia Allen, Georgia Stanway; Alessia Russo, Lauren Hemp, Chloe Kelly.
The first shot of the game came from a Russo cross that reached Kelly who controlled the ball and shot wide with her left foot after 10 minutes.
The Netherlands replied quickly, scoring with their first chance as a long ball from Ypema was cleared by Finnigan straight to Pelova who sidefooted in the net for the 1-0 with just 14 minutes on the clock.
The England equaliser came from a superb through ball by Allen, who sent was clear on the right wing. She cut back inside and shot, left-footed as Nouwen ailed to close her down, finding the back of the net to make it 1-1 after 20 minutes.
Stanway then made it a quickfire double. A clever chip by Hemp sent her through the middle, and although her initial shot hit the post, she pounced on the rebound and forced it home to make it 2-1 England.
With both teams having set their defensive block in a medium position, the game looked tight in the centre as both teams tried to break quickly behind the opposition defence. The Netherlands looked lethargic throughout most of the game.
England came close to adding a third goal when a Stanway shot that hit the crossbar after a cross from Hemp at the far post. She was also close to her hat-trick again when a 25-yard free-kick went wide.
The scoreline did not change despite the Netherlands going full attacking mode for the last 15 minutes. They threw everything at England but in a very disorganised way that did not threaten the England defense much allowing them to see out the game as winners.
Post-match reactions from players
After the match, I spoke to a few players.
Alessia Russo on how she felt after that victory: “Obviously there is a real buzz around the camp to be in the semi-final, everyone is very excited, but now know we have to recover and prepare for the next game.”
I then asked what went through the players’ minds when they went 1-0 down. “We never seem to panic, it happened in our last game, we have learned how to adapt to it. When things don’t go right, we know how to come back from it”
On England’s chances of the winning the tournament: “In tournament football, it is anyone’s tournament when you reach the semi-finals. If we can keep our form and recover well, it is up for grabs. “
I also spoke to former Arsenal player, Anna Patten, who now plays and studies in the USA, and asked how she felt after the game
“Absolutely amazing,” she said. “We are history makers and our full focus turns to the semi-final, whoever we play against, we want to keep going and keep proving that we can do it”
I then asked about the stability of the starting 11 for England, as Mo Marley has kept the same 11 throughout the tournament save for a center forward change in Matchday 2 and a forced change against the Netherlands due to suspension. “We look at stats and as a back five, we are confident in what we can do,” Patten said.
“Everything also comes down from the girls on the bench, who influence us at half-time, helping us with what we can do better, in training and everything. It is not just us back four, it’s a defensive unit all together. “
We also chatted about her life in the USA. Patten left Arsenal last summer to study at Florida State University. “I love America, I love the ability to balance education and amazing coaching. I think what is really good out there is I can have individual coaching where it is one-on-one and I can really improve my game, so I can make those little steps and become a better player.”
What about her day to day working regime? “It is a nice schedule, you get up to go to class and you know that at the end of the day, you will have your football training and it kind of helps you through the classes. Getting a degree is very important for most of us girls who have chosen to go to America, so that’s what we are doing”
I then asked about her future after finishing University. “I am pretty certain that I will come back to the FA WSL,” she said.