Phil Neville is keen on marginal gains. Before his team head off to Nice for the start of the Women’s World Cup, the England coach has been getting his players acclimatised. Lengthy sessions in the sauna, wearing thermal undershirts in training: nothing has been left to chance. Though there is one thing that we now know will not be tucked into the team kitbag as they make their way to the south of France: complacency.
Everything was set up in Brighton for a carnival send off. A sizeable crowd of 20,076 filled the Amex Stadium with a buzz of expectation to soundtrack the final warm up before the competition begins in earnest. There was a widespread hope that we were about to be witness to the start of something very big indeed.
Instead came a chastening defeat to a New Zealand side sitting 19th in the Fifa rankings, the players heading off the pitch at the end wearing the sheepish expression of collective under-achievement. Though Neville insisted nothing had changed with the result. He claimed he has long known precisely what is required to deliver success in France.
“The challenge now is for us all to perform on the big stage,” he said. “We’ve talked long and hard about it, we’ve not been shy about our expectations. Now we need to deliver. That’s my challenge and my excitement. We’ve dreamt of this moment all our lives. When we get to it we’re going to have to perform. I’m going to have to manage better than I ever have and they’re going to have to play, to have any kind of success they are going to have superhuman efforts. People don’t just knock on the door and give you a World Cup medal.”