England’s performances under departing boss Phil Neville have largely been below par since the Lionesses suffered a 2-1 defeat to Sweden in the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019 third place play-off in Nice last summer, a match branded as ‘a nonsense game’ by the former Manchester United full-back.
A tournament which promised so much, and to a point saw England deliver, came to an end when the Lionesses were harshly defeated by the eventual world champions the USA in the semi-finals.
England seemingly had little left in the tank following that defeat and they were hugely underwhelming four days later as they suffered a 2-1 defeat to Sweden, resulting in Neville and his side returning home without medals.
Neville clearly took the Lionesses into that tournament with one aim, to win it, and it clearly hurt him to find England playing for a Bronze Medal against Sweden in a third place play-off rather than for gold. Whilst congratulating the Swedes after the final whistle in Nice, Neville declared the third place play-off as ‘a nonsense game’, many knew what he meant by that but some were left upset by the remark after having seen England celebrate a Bronze Medal with great pride in Canada in 2015.
Since that final fixture in France, Neville’s England have endured a major hangover, winning just three of nine games. Those victories were made up of two fortunate wins against two sides much lower than the Lionesses in the FIFA Women’s World Rankings in Portugal and the Czech Republic and a victory over an equally as off-colour Japanese side in last month’s SheBelieves Cup.
It simply hasn’t been right for England since they entered the field for that FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019 play-off. Many have parked the blame for the significant dip in form at Neville’s door citing reasons for the post-World Cup failures such as his tendency to select his favourites over those players in-form and his tactics.
Having wasted opportunities to sell the game to huge crowds at The Riverside Stadium and Wembley in late 2019, the Lionesses being downed by both Brazil and Germany, all eyes are now on the next big selling opportunity at UEFA Women’s EURO 2021 which will be hosted in England one year later than originally planned in 2022. Whoever is appointed to replace Neville must be capable of getting their players to rise to the big occasions and embrace the challenges which are ahead.