With the Women’s World Cup less than 100 days away, Gemma Bonner believes the Cyprus Cup provides England’s players with an ideal opportunity to stake their claim for a place on the plane to Canada.
Mark Sampson’s squad landed in Larnaca on Thursday evening to begin their preparations for the annual friendly tournament. The Three Lions will take on Finland, Australia and Holland in Group B before one final match on 11 March.
And as the summer showpiece approaches, Bonner said her team-mates are ready to battle it out to be a part of the 23-strong party in June.
England v Finland
The Cyprus Cup
12.30pm GMT, Wednesday 4 March
The Liverpool captain said: “Everyone is fighting for their place. It’s an exciting time but you also know it’s a competitive time. Hopefully that will bring out the best in people.
“Every player is trying to do everything they possibly can to be in that World Cup squad. Aside from the work we do with England and our clubs we are all trying to keep ourselves in the best possible shape – and obviously play well as well.
“It’s great to have so many games in Cyprus. It is quite a long time to be away with the squad but it will benefit us.
"You gel as a team through playing games. With four matches in the next couple of weeks it gives everyone an opportunity to make the most of their time on the pitch. We'll be looking to get four wins under our belt, too, to build some momentum going into Canada."
First up is Finland on Wednesday 4 March – and matches against the Scandinavians hold fond memories for Bonner.
The centre back scored her first international goal against Finland at U19 level and repeated the feat at senior level at last season’s Cyprus Cup.
She said: “It was a wide free-kick from Alex Greenwood. She whipped the ball into the near post and I remember trying to do everything I could to make contact with it. It’s the first diving header I’ve ever scored.
“I can still remember the feeling when it went in. That was pretty special and I definitely won’t forget it.
"When the ball hit the back of the net it was the realisation that I’d just scored for England, and it was a very proud moment.”
Bonner continued: “We had a lot of the ball that day and dominated the game. It was a good team performance and we won 3-0 so we were pretty pleased in the end.
Bonner's England factfile
Debut: v Turkey, 26/09/2013
U23 caps: 10 (2 goals)
U19 caps: 14 (1 goal)
U17 caps: 10
“Finland are a typical Scandinavian side. They are quite physical and it’s never an easy game against them but we have always seemed to do quite well throughout the age groups.
“It will be another good physical test.”
The 23-year-old is relishing the start of the Cyprus Cup for the opportunity to experience different styles of play, particularly against Australia.
“I’ve never played against Australia and I don’t think many of the other girls have either so that will be a different proposition. Every nation brings something different.
“We are used to playing European nations because of the qualifying campaigns we have, but it’s good to play other nations – the likes of USA and Australia for example.
“It will stand us in good stead having played different styles of football.”
Bonner has appeared at World Cups at U17 and U20 level, and was a member of the U19s squad who won the European Championship in 2009, but she admits featuring in a senior World Cup would be the highlight of her England career to date.
Bonner said: “We know we have still got a lot to work on but I definitely think the last two games have been beneficial for us.
“Sometimes you can learn more when you lose. USA and Germany are the two best nations in the world so you can only learn from playing teams like that. And hopefully that will show come the summer.”
England's World Cup campaign begins on Tuesday 9 June when they take on France in Moncton. They face Mexico in the same city on 13 June before rounding off their Group F matches against Colombia in Montreal on 17 June.