Thursday 30 August 2018, 10:08

Bronze out to revive English football fever

  • England face a decisive FIFA Women’s World Cup™ qualifier on Friday

  • They travel to Group 1 leaders Wales with France 2019 place on the line

  • Inspired by the response to the men’s team, Lucy Bronze wants a repeat

Over the course of a memorable English summer, Lucy Bronze was simply an ordinary fan. She loved every minute of it too.

Bronze savoured the experience of accompanying friends and family to watch the Three Lions’ FIFA World Cup™ adventures, and marvelled at the outpouring of passion and affection that Gareth Southgate’s team inspired. But while enjoying all of this in relative anonymity, a tantalising thought continued to occur. As Bronze told “I kept thinking: ‘This could be us next year.’”

‘Us’, of course, refers to England’s women’s national team, and ‘next year’ to the FIFA Women’s World Cup in France. For while Bronze was more than content to blend into the crowd, she would be happier still to find her and her team-mates centre-stage.

“Watching all the games as a fan, going along to pubs and watching them on big screens and seeing how the fans reacted, was just amazing,” said Bronze, a nominee for The Best FIFA Women’s Player award. “And yeah, through it all, I did keep thinking about what it might be like if we could make it to France.

“I know we had great support when we were in Canada (for the Women’s World Cup in 2015) but the time difference and the distance meant we didn’t see it as much. I also think it will be at another level next year with the tournament being held just across the water in France – particularly if we do well.

“The challenge is there for us because I think people loved getting behind the men this summer and I’m sure they’d love to do the same for us if we can do something special. We’ve been so close to the final at the last two tournaments we’ve played (having reached the semi-finals of the 2015 Women’s World Cup and 2017 UEFA Women’s EURO) and it’s just about making that next step.

“So many English players have achieved so much at club level now and everyone is desperate for the national team to win a trophy. The World Cup would be the ultimate in that respect.”

England first need to secure their place at France 2019 of course, and even at this advanced stage of qualifying, that is far from a foregone conclusion. In fact, the Lionesses trail Wales in Group 1 ahead of heading to their neighbours – who have yet to concede a goal – in a qualifying showdown that should determine the section winners.

But while the Welsh success story has taken many by surprise, Bronze insists it simply reflects rising standards across the women’s game. “It’s been tighter than we would have liked but, then again, we’re not alone in that,” she said. “You look at how tough Germany are finding it in their group, for example, and it just shows how far some of the other teams have come.

“People from the outside might not know much about Wales in women’s football but we were always expecting them to be strong opponents, particularly given the rivalry between the two nations.

“We know how much they want to be the team that stops us. It is going to be a real battle and we’ll need to be at our best to make sure it’s us that get through.”