Mark Sampson had nothing but praise for the way his players have prepared for Thursday’s World Cup qualifier in Ukraine.
Following the 3-0 win over Belarus at the weekend, the England Women’s team stayed in Minsk for an extra four days as they shifted their attention to their eighth Group 6 game, which takes place at Arena Lviv in western Ukraine. They have won each of their seven previous qualifiers without conceding a goal.
The Three Lions flew to Lviv on Wednesday afternoon and went straight from the airport to train at the 34,000-capacity stadium that was used for three matches during Euro 2012.
Ukraine v England
FIFA Women's World Cup 2015
Group 6 qualifier
4pm BST, Thursday 19 June 2014
Arena Lviv, Ukraine
Head coach Sampson spoke to FATV after the session and he expressed his delight at how things have gone this week.
He said: “The players have really been on it. We demand high standards on the training pitch and they’ve certainly stepped up to the plate and delivered.
“And the quality of our training this week has really stepped up a notch so I’m delighted with that. The fact that we travelled a little bit later but [that] they still delivered a session like that just shows the mentality these players are starting to develop.
“It was only 45 minutes of work but the players have really been on it in training. Their application and intensity has been right and that puts us in the right frame of mind, physically and mentally, to enjoy the game tomorrow.”
England and Ukraine last met just six weeks ago when Natasha Dowie and Eniola Aluko each scored twice to give the hosts a 4-0 win in Shrewsbury.
Although Sampson’s side deserved to win the game on the balance of play, the opening goal did not arrive until five minutes before half-time – and he believes they may have to be patient again.
But he has backed his players to put in an even better performance in Lviv than they did at Greenhous Meadow.
Sampson added: “We know they’re going to be a capable team. They have athletic players and they get themselves organised, particularly if you don’t attack quickly and allow them to get into shape.
"We’ll have to make sure that when we do win possession we look for that counter-attack opportunity and don’t allow them to get themselves back. If they manage to do that then we’ve got the patience and the quality to wear them down, find the spaces and pick the right moment to penetrate.
England's Women train in Arena Lviv
“We showed that in the home game and we’ll probably have to show that quality even more in the away game.
“We have to come here and produce one of our best performances to get the result we want. That’s our focus – to come to a new environment, a fantastic football arena, and make sure we perform to our maximum and do better than we did last time out.”
He continued: “This team is playing well at the moment. They are playing with lots of confidence, they are playing with a real intensity and they are starting to really grow into a new way of work that we’ve brought into play.
“It’s a challenge we can’t wait for.”
England could qualify for Canada 2015 with victory over Ukraine, providing Wales fail to beat Belarus, also on Thursday.
If the Three Lions and Wales both win, England would require just one point from their remaining two qualifiers, against the Welsh in August and Montenegro in September, to seal their place at next summer’s tournament.
But Sampson refused to look beyond the Ukraine game and also highlighted the benefit of his squad being together for a week and a half.
He said: “It’s a great opportunity for us to work together and for the players to really enjoy the environment and good quality time in each other’s company.
"Anyone around the group will see that this team has got a very good spirit, their attitude towards training and meetings has been spot on. I really can’t fault them in that, so that gives them the right to have a little down time, to enjoy themselves and I think they’ve got the balance right.
“I think that will be reflected in the performance tomorrow.”