England centre half Mary Phillip is expecting a very tough test on Tuesday night
England centre half Mary Phillip is expecting a very tough test on Tuesday night when the national side take on the African champions Nigeria, and she should know. Phillip was part of the Fulham side that narrowly beat Nigeria in a competitive and physical friendly last Thursday. Nigeria had decided to play a training game before the Nationwide friendly international against England, although they left several of their first team regulars out of the starting line-up.
"It ended up being a very hard game. We started off very positive and we had the run of the match for the majority of the first half. In the second half we both made changes and Nigeria came out with a stronger, quicker side and they upped their game and changed it round quite a bit," she told TheFA.com
Phillip has only recently returned to the international scene after taking time out to have her two children but has settled back into the squad very quickly and started in the impressive performance against the European Champions, Germany, in May. Experienced at club level with the professional outfit Fulham, Phillip will be taking nothing for granted on Tuesday as she expects the Nigerians to be even better than they were against her club side Fulham.
"I am expecting a tough game," she added. "Obviously they are going to be playing England so they will up their game a lot more. They are quick, they're strong, they're physical and they'll go for anything. If the ball is there to be won they'll go for it to try and win that ball."
But Phillip did not solely praise the physical nature of the African nation's game. With their squad containing four professionals from the WUSA league in the States they are very good technically, which Phillip saw at first hand as the Nigerians sliced through the Fulham defence to score in their 2-1 defeat. "They scored a great goal against us, it was just one touch passing coming from the midfield to break through into the box and scoring from there."
With seven players from the professionals of Fulham in the England squad, they will know what to expect and it will be the perfect test before the massive play-off games against Iceland. Nigeria were selected as opposition for this important warm up because their physical style of play and formation is similar to the Icelanders, so the game will undoubtedly help England's preparation for the potentially physical battle next month.
Although England are fully focussed on the task in hand on Tuesday, it is hard for the squad not to look at the bigger picture and the upcoming World Cup play-offs. If successful, England will find themselves on a plane to China next year, where they will line up alongside the World's best, something that is not lost on Phillip.
"It would be great to go to the World Cup in China, it's on top of the scale," Phillip enthuses. "But we're just focusing on playing Tuesday, getting the team ready for the play-offs, then just building on that. Getting to the finals in China would be great."
Reaching the Finals in China would be a massive boost for the Women's game, already the fastest growing female sport in this country. However, the long journey begins on Tuesday night and a good performance and result will leave them in confident mood before they face Iceland. Phillip and her teammates will know that better than most.
Tickets are on sale now for the match, priced at £3 for adults and £1 for children which means a saving of up to £4 on a family ticket. For ticket sales, call the NCFC hotline on 0870 444 1902.
Women's football is the fastest growing sport in England. For more information visit www.thefa.com or call the 'Girls Get Involved' hotline number on 0845 3108555.