Steph Houghton captained England Women to a historic third-place finish at this year’s World Cup – and now she has set her sights on winning the European Championship.
Just 73 days have passed since Mark Sampson’s side defeated Germany for the first time to win bronze at Canada 2015.
The Lionesses are back together at St. George’s Park to prepare for their opening Euro 2017 qualifier against Estonia in Tallinn on Monday 21 September.
Estonia v England
UEFA Women's Euro 2017
Group 7 qualifier
5pm BST, Monday 21 September
A. Le Coq Arena, Tallinn
And Houghton wants her team-mates to use their World Cup success as a platform for further glory.
The 27-year-old said: “We want to be the best in Europe. There’s no hiding that. We know that we’ve got the players to do it.
“But, having played France, Norway and Germany at the World Cup we know there a lot of tough European teams out there so it definitely won’t be easy.
“As long as we keep our feet on the ground and work hard I’m sure we can improve on what we did in the summer.
“We’re all feeling confident and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be after what we achieved in Canada.
“So it’s nice to meet up with the girls again. We have had a hectic few weeks with our clubs since the World Cup but now we’re here at St. George’s Park we are all looking forward to the new campaign.”
Houghton et al. were rightly lauded for their feats across the pond.
They were the first England Women’s team to win a World Cup knockout match, they reached a maiden semi-final and attained the best World Cup finish by any England team since 1966.
The Lionesses received a heroes’ welcome at Heathrow airport and later enjoyed a day of celebrations with Prince William and David Cameron, topped off by a visit to Centre Court for a Wimbledon semi-final.
As interest in the women’s game grew, so too did attendances at FA Women’s Super League matches.
And Houghton admits it took her a while to appreciate the level of the team’s success.
She said: “It took a few weeks to properly sink in because we’ve been so busy with our clubs.
“But slowly but surely it has been sinking in. People were talking about us as soon as we got home, and people are still coming up to me in the street and congratulating me.
“It’s a special feeling. We were on a massive journey and we managed to achieve something no other England team has done since 1966.”
However, having scaled unprecedented heights in Canada, Houghton is confident her team-mates will not suffer a World Cup hangover and believes they are ready for another qualifying campaign.
She said: “We feel that we’ve still got so much more to give. I know how ambitious this squad is. We always want to be the best.
“This is the start of a new journey now. What we did at the World Cup – we have to use that as an incentive. We’ve got Estonia coming up and we want to start our Euro campaign with a win and a good performance.”
Houghton continued: “We know we are one of the teams to beat now and that is a great pressure to have.
“If you’d have asked me before the World Cup ‘do you want that sort of pressure?’ I’d have bitten your hand off. We know what a good team we are and are stronger because of the World Cup, where we beat some of the best sides in the world.
“It’s a pressure that we should embrace. It makes you want to improve.”
Sampson has made seven changes to his World Cup squad, mainly to allow a number of senior players to fully recover from minor injuries they have picked up in recent weeks.
That has paved the way for in-form Manchester City midfielder Isobel Christiansen to earn her first call-up, while Chelsea defender Gilly Flaherty and Arsenal forward Danielle Carter are included for just the second time each.
Amy Turner, Demi Stokes and Jess Clarke have also returned to the squad.
Houghton said of the changes in personnel: “It’s a credit to those players that they have been performing well enough for their clubs to be selected.
“It’s great that they’re involved with England again.
“It’s important to keep players coming through the system. We want competition for places because that’s drives us all on to perform to the best of our abilities.”