Wednesday 24 April 2019, 11:03

Ellis: It's going to be an amazingly competitive World Cup

  • USA head coach Jill Ellis sits down with

  • She says set-pieces are going to be crucial due to the introduction of VAR

  • The 2015 champion believes France 2019 will be hardest World Cup to win

Jill Ellis is laser-focused on what's next. She may have led USA to their third world title at the FIFA Women's World Cup Canada 2015™, but you can be assured that she hasn't watched highlights or moments from that achievement anytime recently. Approaching the five-year marker of being the USWNT head coach, Ellis is only concerned about the next game.

When caught up with Ellis recently, it became clear that everything from Canada 2015 was far from her mind and that everything she's doing now is geared to further success in France.

Head coach Jill Ellis of The United States looks on USA are often seen as a team who have set the pace for women’s football. Is it hard to see other teams catching up or does it spur you on to be even better?

Jill Ellis: My mantra is iron sharpens iron, so anytime you are challenged, I think that’s a good thing because it forces you to continue to push. I also think people forget that in 1991 and 1999, those games were 2-1, 0-0, and in many of our Olympic finals the difference was one goal, so for a long, long time at that top level, the margin has been small.

I think where the USA have shone has been the consistency at which they get into those games and deal with those moments, but I think those games have always been close. People tend to forget that. Every player and coach on our team wants to play the best teams because it’s more meaningful. I think that the harder things are, the more value there is in doing them, so I think we’re embracing the fact that everybody else is very good.

What kind of tactical trends have you started to see across the game that you’re anticipating at France 2019?

With the investment that everybody’s made and with the globalisation of our game, there’s so much investment in so many areas in our sport. I think in terms of this World Cup, tactical flexibility will play a big role in terms of a trend. You’re seeing teams now adapting to their opponent, looking at certain situations and having flexibility in a system or tactic. It’s about the transition game, and that moment of dispossession or gaining possession, that will be a critical aspect in who wins. With the introduction of the Video Assistant Referee (VAR), set-pieces are going to be critical and a major part of this tournament.

What do you think makes France an ideal host for the Women’s World Cup?

Obviously they have the benefit of the men’s team winning and there’s an excitement and energy there. It’s also one of the countries that has an established women’s league, so you can tell they support the sport. I think people will want to come watch. It’s very much a soccer culture and I think regardless if it’s male or female, people will want to see a global competition on their shores. The support and knowledge of the fans will make this an exciting World Cup.

How has the game and level of competition in women’s football evolved during your tenure with the USWNT? Would you say this edition of the World Cup will exhibit the highest level of play to date?

Back in 2015 I said that that would be the hardest World Cup to win because obviously the number of teams entering grew. But now I would say that this will be the hardest World Cup to win because the number of quality teams, teams that are growing the game, the personalities of the players—our game is growing and growing. I think people feel that and I think it’s going to be an amazingly competitive World Cup with a lot of memorable moments.

What did you learn from your experiences at Canada 2015? How do you set your team up mentally for similar success in France?

So many things. In one moment it’s about making sure the team grows in the tournament, I think that was important. The group stages are about getting better as the tournament unfolds. That was an important lesson that sometimes where you start is not going to be where you finish, so you want to make sure you’re getting better as the tournament goes on. It’s also about making sure you have depth at positions to deal with suspensions and injuries. That helps my preparation now to make sure we have answers to questions in terms of if players are not available, where do you go from there? To know that, if you struggle in your first game, that that’s a part of it. Let’s just make sure we have takeaways and we get better.

The other part is that not everything has to go right. It’s not going to be a perfect ride. I don’t know how many teams have won every game in a seven-game series to win the World Cup. It’s about staying focused and staying positive, keeping the team connected to each other and not letting the outside world affect anything we’re doing; those are some of the big takeaways from that tournament.

What lessons did you take from the SheBelieves Cup, and how will you apply them for France 2019?

The main focus for me during this period of preparation for the World Cup was to have a very competitive schedule. The takeaways from SheBelieves were that there are many, many things that we’re doing well, so it’s just about some final pieces that, at this stage our players have only played three or four games, you recognise that you need to sharpen certain areas of your game. We did a lot of really good things. But also when you make certain mistakes at this level, you can get punished for those, so it was about making sure we get better in the areas we need to sharpen to be successful in France, and that’s exactly why we play these games. I got a lot of answers from the tournament in terms of personnel, in terms of things that we are doing very well and things that we need to make sure we focus on and fine tune

For all the USA’s incredible achievements at the Women’s World Cup, they have never won the tournament back to back. Is that in yours and the players’ minds as you’re preparing, perhaps as further motivation?

For me personally, it’s about winning this tournament. I don’t think about whether it’s a back-to-back or whether we’re defending a World Cup. Everything is about what’s in front of us. This is a different team in terms of personalities, players, system; there’s so many differences that it’s a new journey for us. I don’t think about what has happened before. It’s about making sure this group is ready to go in June and through July, so I think it’s about this pathway we’re on right now and not the past.

Head coach Jill Ellis talks with Samantha Mewis of the USA