Women’s World Cup 2019: What shape are England in for the World Cup?

Phil Neville talks to his England players in training
Women's World Cup
Host nation: France Dates: 7 June - 7 July 2019
Coverage: BBC website will have live text commentaries on all England and Scotland matches and you can listen to commentary on BBC Radio 5 live, online and on the Red Button

England head to the Women's World Cup in France off the back of an inconsistent set of results in their warm-up games.

The 'Road to France' series of friendlies brought two defeats and two wins as manager Phil Neville rotated his squad heavily.

There have also been fitness doubts over several players.

So BBC Sport looks at what shape the Lionesses are in before this month's showpiece.

Defeats in warm-up matches good for England - Neville

England's two defeats have been good for them, according to manager Phil Neville, who described facing New Zealand as a "little bit of a nuisance" before the Lionesses fly to France on Tuesday.

Saturday's surprise 1-0 loss to the side ranked 19th in the world came after wins over Spain and Denmark and April's defeat by Canada.

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After hosts France open the tournament against South Korea on Friday, the Lionesses will start their campaign against neighbours Scotland in Group D on Sunday, 9 June, before facing Argentina and 2011 champions Japan.

"The Canada game and this New Zealand game have been really good exercises for us, in terms of the types of challenges we're going to come up against," Neville told BBC Sport.

"Against Argentina, maybe against Scotland or Japan, and when we get to the last 16 and hopefully the last eight, teams will be really tactically astute against us, doubling up on our wide players, not just playing expansive football, laying down and letting you roll all over them.

"So it's been a really good challenge for our wide players. The two defeats have actually been really good for us."

Warm-up matches 'a nuisance'

Saturday's loss in front of 20,076 in Brighton was England's fourth in 19 games since Neville took charge in 2018, in a spell that has seen 11 victories and triumph in this year's SheBelieves Cup in the United States.

The Lionesses wasted numerous first-half chances at the Amex Stadium before falling behind from only the Football Ferns' second attack of the game, and were then unable to overcome the visitors' defence in the second half.

"It felt like an attack versus defence game, where they just hit us with a sucker-punch," Neville said. "I'm happy. I'm contented. But we lost the game and we don't like losing.

"These games have been a little bit of a nuisance for us and New Zealand said exactly the same thing. They feel the same way in terms of getting out to France.

"When you go into a major championship, the warm-up games are really difficult because you want to get your rhythm, you want to get your form, but you've got one eye on Scotland and you've got one eye on the championship.

"Training has been really good, but [in the past two games] you can see there's an eye on getting out to France. It's human nature. It's catch-22 for a player. They don't want to get injured but they want to find their form."

Group D fixtures

England get through warm-up games with only 'minor knocks'

In that regard, England's quartet of 'Road to France' fixtures have been successful, in that no members of the squad picked up major injuries, but four players missed Saturday's defeat because of "minor knocks".

Neville revealed after Saturday's loss that left-back Demi Stokes, right-sided player Rachel Daly, midfielder Jade Moore and goalkeeper Mary Earps had all been unavailable, but stressed that none of them were doubts for 9 June's Scotland game.

"We're going to have to be really careful with them," Neville said. "But the injuries are minor knocks.

"It's not that we're going to have to be changing the squad in any way. They'll hopefully be back training on Wednesday or Thursday next week."

England will, however, be without their vice-captain and key playmaker Jordan Nobbs, who has been absent since suffering an anterior cruciate ligament injury in November.

Women's World Cup groups
Group A: France, South Korea, Norway, Nigeria
Group B: Germany, China, Spain, South Africa
Group C: Australia, Italy, Brazil, Jamaica
Group D: England, Scotland, Argentina, Japan
Group E: Canada, Cameroon, New Zealand, Netherlands
Group F: USA, Thailand, Chile, Sweden

Does Neville know his best side?

Against New Zealand, Neville made 10 changes from the side that beat Denmark in Walsall on 25 May, with only winger Nikita Parris keeping her place in the starting side.

Asked whether he knew the precise XI that would face Scotland next Sunday, Neville replied "yes", but added that he had yet to inform the squad of his selections.

Chelsea midfielder Karen Carney was among those to impress after coming on as a substitute in the second half at the Amex Stadium, one of five players introduced from the bench as England searched for an equaliser.

"I feel totally relaxed about what I saw [on Saturday] and that's what I told them at the end," former Manchester United and Everton full-back Neville added.

"My lecture at the end was about what they're going to do in the next two or three days when they're off, how they're going to recover, how they're going to be mentally switching off, see the families, walk the dogs, do whatever they have to do.

"It's been a long time since we beat Wales [to qualify on 31 August]. We just want to get down to business."

Euros star Taylor's international goal drought continues

One area of potential concern for England fans is a lack of recent international goals for Jodie Taylor, who won the Golden Boot at the 2017 European Championships but has not scored for her country for over a year.

The 33-year-old former Arsenal striker has gone eight consecutive England appearances without finding the net since her late penalty in April 2018's qualifying win over Bosnia and Herzegovina, but Neville backed Taylor to deliver on the biggest stage this summer.

Jodie Taylor

"I'm not worried about my goalscorers really because I know they'll get chances. I felt Jodie should have scored two [on Saturday] and she said the same. I'm not worried.

"She was out for a long time. From the October internationals, she didn't really get back playing until January or February, so she's still finding her rhythm, but I think she's a big-game player.

"When the big games come, Jodie Taylor will score goals."

What was the verdict of the pundits?

The Lionesses are ranked third in the world and their loss to New Zealand, who had won three and lost three of their previous six games in 2019 - including a 5-0 defeat at the hands of the United States - will have raised eyebrows among the contenders heading to France.

The Football Ferns have never won a game at the Women's World Cup finals, while England - who finished third in 2015 - are among the pre-tournament favourites as they bid to win the title for the first time.

Former England goalkeeper Rachel Brown-Finnis told BBC One: "England are going to have to show a lot more class and craft at the World Cup to break down teams like New Zealand because they will bank up and make it difficult for them. They just couldn't break them down.

"What England can't do is dwell on this result. They've got a World Cup in less than a week's time and can't take anything negative into it.

"It's a blip, it's a bad day at the office, but they'll go into the World Cup with no changes to their mentality."

Ex-England forward Sue Smith added: "England weren't clinical enough in front of goal but the most important thing is that Phil Neville has a fully fit squad because we want them to peak at the World Cup.

"They moved the ball well and there were a couple of good individual performances, but they didn't score and they conceded a poor goal."

Former Manchester United striker Dion Dublin added: "England kind of dropped their guard slightly and played to the level of New Zealand.

"They'll be hurting from the result but everybody is fit and the World Cup is next week. That's what it's all about.

"Can they win it? Yes they can. They can win it, no hesitation."

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BBC Sport has launched #ChangeTheGame this summer to showcase female athletes in a way they never have been before. Through more live women's sport available to watch across the BBC this summer, complemented by our journalism, we are aiming to turn up the volume on women's sport and alter perceptions. Find out more here.

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