'Biggest game of our careers'
Sunday, 06 September, 2009
Anita Asante and Casey Stoney look forward to historic semi-final.
The England Women’s team arrived in Tampere on Friday afternoon in good spirits, but well aware of the task facing them on Sunday evening.
Thursday’s hard-fought 3-2 quarter final win against Finland booked England’s place in the last four of the European Championship and the squad is now firmly focused on facing a vibrant Dutch team, who also booked their first-ever semi-final place in the competition, with a penalty shoot-out victory against France.
England defenders, Casey Stoney and Anita Asante, are well aware of the task ahead of them in Tampere.
Left-back, Stoney, told TheFA.com:
“The entire squad is delighted we’ve made it this far but in our minds, nothing has been accomplished yet.
“We came through a tough battle against a team that had a physical and height advantage over us in the Finns and that has given us a lot of confidence. The Dutch will be a slightly different game in that we are more evenly matched in height and although they are physically strong, I think we are better equipped to match them. I think the Dutch will play the ball on the ground more and look to pass around us, they have quick forwards and our defenders will have to cope with that threat.”
Asante admitted that past battles with the Dutch have little bearing in this game.
“I don’t think you can read too much into past games against Holland. We’ve come out on top and so have they and Sunday’s game has so much riding on it, I think both teams will be giving everything they have to try and get to that Final.
“You can talk about past games and stats all you want, but it’s on the pitch in Tampere where it will count. The mood in the camp is upbeat and the whole squad is ready for what lies ahead of us. We know how tough they will be, and we won’t be holding anything back.”
Both England defenders dismiss the notion that being favourites on the night will help England’s progress.
“Are there favourites in a semi-final?” Stoney questioned.
“We watched the Sweden versus Norway game where one team were favourites and the other team were underdogs. The underdogs won the game 3-0 and one of the tournament favourites in Sweden are now on their way home.
“It would be foolish to underestimate Holland and we have no intention of doing so. They have surprised everyone in this tournament so far by advancing past the group stage and then beating France and they will be up for this game just like us.”
Asante agreed: “In this tournament we have already been favourites and underdogs so it just goes to show how easy it is for opinion to change. We lost to Italy which surprised many and like the Dutch, I think a few people had written us off early on, but we are in the semi-final and we will be doing everything we can to progress. I still don’t think we’ve played our best football yet and I’m hoping we have saved that for the games where it really counts, starting on Sunday night.”
Asante came off with a knee injury against Italy but is confident she will be fit.
“The knee stood up well against Finland, and it had to, we faced a bit of an onslaught in the last 20 minutes. We had to win and contest quite a few headers so I was pleased that it came through ok. I think we can be pleased with our performance against the Finns but it’s time to get our minds set on what is the biggest game of our careers so far. We want to be in that Final and we have to go through Holland to get there.”
Stoney added: “Getting to a Final would be the pinnacle of my career.
“I want it so much, not just for all my team-mates, but also the staff, our family and everyone that has put in all the hard work for us to get here and be in this position. It would also be such a good boost for the Women’s game in England. Any success we have over here will only help raise the profile of Women’s football back in England and we want to be able to go home knowing we did everyone proud.”
The final word went to Asante.
“Reaching the Final would be one of the greatest achievements of my career and would mean to much to all the players and our families who’ve made a lot of sacrifices for us over the years and helped us get to this point. It would be a fantastic achievement for Women’s football and we will give everything we have against Holland.”