Neville savours ‘mouth-watering’ World Cup opener against Scotland
‘We’re going to need to produce form we’ve not yet produced,’ says England coach
Phil Neville, coach of England, attending the Women’s World Cup draw in Paris. Photograph: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
As street cleaners swept Parisian boulevards clear of rubber bullets, and owners of looted shops began compiling inventories for insurance companies on Sunday, Phil Neville’s staff were also working overtime.
While Saturday’s anti-government protesters torched cars and inhaled teargas in the centre of the French capital, the World Cup draw took place amid stringent security on a nearby island in the Seine. The 24 competing teams were divided into six groups – with matches to be played across nine cities – and England drew Scotland, Argentina and Japan.
“All my staff are back at home locked in a room planning now,” said Neville, whose side will find themselves shuttling from Nice to Le Havre and back to the Riviera during a tough-looking group stage. “But playing in Nice twice will be fantastic, it’s a nice place to be. Obviously Le Havre is at the other end of the country but, logistically, we’ll fly and be fine. Playing two games in the same place is a positive.”
But above plotting travel logistics of a tournament in which the Lionesses will hope to reach the final in Lyon, Neville’s priority is pre-tournament preparation. He admits it will be “tricky” to be playing Japan at the SheBelieves Cup in the US early next spring – where the 2011 World Cup winners and 2015 semi-final conquerors of Mark Sampson’s Lionesses join the USA, England and Brazil in a friendly tournament – but has already started looking further ahead.
“My staff are locked in that room planning who we want to play in May, early June and maybe April,” said the England coach. All my players will see is June 9th and our first tournament game – [against Scotland in Nice] – but I’ve got to look at things strategically. The next six months is about being prepared to get out of that group.”
If England top Group D they will be afforded a theoretically kind route to the final which would see them avoid the USA, Germany, Canada and Australia before the showpiece on July 7th. Topping the group will be no easy task, though, particularly as Shelley Kerr’s Scotland have progressed in leaps and bounds since England beat them 6-0 at Euro 2017.
“If you’re going to go to a World Cup – and I always dreamt of going to a World Cup but was never fortunate enough as a player – you want the biggest and best occasions, and June 9th will be a special occasion – it’s the mouth-watering game,” said Neville, who knows Scotland now possess “top players” in, among others, Kim Little, Jen Beattie and Jane Ross. “We’re probably going to need to produce form we’ve not produced since I’ve become manager,” he said.
Although Argentina are probably the weakest team competing at France 2019, any fixture against them has resonance for Neville: “It’s a tough group. Japan will be looking to win the World Cup and even Argentina has historical meaning for us.”
England’s challenge is to strike gold. “If I said we wanted bronze in France I’d have 28 players texting me saying: ‘You’re not the right manager for us,’ ” said Neville. “They want to win a World Cup. That’s what I was brought in to do. The work starts now.” – Guardian