The Women’s Football World Cup kicks off and I am backing England

Maggie lines-up at the WRWC final with England teammates Natasha Hunt and Kay Wilson.

Maggie lines-up at the WRWC final with England teammates Natasha Hunt and Kay Wilson.

Nearly ten months on from winning the Rugby World Cup with my England teammates, I am now so excited to see our female football side flying the England flag at the World Cup in Canada this month.

All the action kicks off this week, and Head Coach Mark Sampson has announced a strong 23-woman squad who have clearly set their sights high. It is undoubtedly going to be a tough tournament for England who head to Canada with a mixed bag of result behind them.

At the same time though, England have had some good wins against the likes of China, Australia and a 1-1 draw against the Netherlands. And although every team wants to go into a World Cup with an unblemished record behind them, realistically that is hard to do. I know that only too well from my own experiences. We finished second in the 2014 Six Nations championship after being tagged as championship favourites but still bounced back to take the ultimate prize last August.

England have a tough pool, with their first game against France on June 9. France are ranked third in the world while England are sixth. On June 13, England then take on Mexico before Colombia on June 13 and then the knock out rounds get underway.

The squad Mark Sampson has selected is a real mix of players; eight players will make their World Cup debuts while at the other end of the scale, another eight will be making their third World Cup appearance. Interestingly Katie Chapman is also recalled after a five year absence from the squad following a controversial dispute with previous manager Hope Powell.

Mark has clearly set out to bring experience back to his squad since his appointment, and I can see the benefit in that. For those eight returnees, going into their third World Cup, they will bring so much hunger and determination. They have been there and done it, and similar to myself and the likes of Tamara Taylor, Danielle Waterman, Rochelle Clark and Rachael Burford, we too had experienced three World Cups. Going into France last year and hoping it would be third time lucky, I personally felt the experience and knowledge I had from 2006 and 2010 put me in the best possible position. That experience Mark has in his team will be invaluable.

Mark has also got some really exciting youngsters in his squad like Lucy Bronze and Fran Kirby who I think will only raise the level of competition even more, while it will drive those experienced heads to work even harder. I used to thrive on having other players chasing my shirt, the likes of Marlie Packer, Alex Matthews and Hannah Gallagher for example.

Steph Houghton has been named as captain and this will be her first World Cup. She will have the experienced shoulders of former England and GB captain Casey Stoney to lean on though and that will be important. Having a really strong leadership group was certainly key to us becoming World Champions.

And finally….with women’s sport more and more in the spot light, this World Cup will undoubtedly attract more attention than ever before. The BBC will show 22 games across their platform in total, including all of England’s games live, which is fantastic news. But with that attention comes pressure.

Last year, going into the 2014 WRWC, women’s sport coverage was on the up and there was certainly huge expectation on us to do well, especially after being bridesmaid at the last two World Cup finals. For us, one thing we did to overcome the pressure was almost keep ourselves in our own bubble so when we were away from games days we were not as exposed to what was going around us – we had our own England bubble. During tournament time, there will be some highs and lows, and the team needs to stick together and focus on the next game rather than what’s going on around them and that is going to be so important to them.

I want to wish all the luck in the world to the England girls in Canada. This is their moment. Let’s make it a Word Cup double for England Women!

For more information about the Women’s Football World Cup go to: http://www.fifa.com/womensworldcup/

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