Sampson urges his players to embrace the pressure

Tuesday 12 Apr 2016
Mark Sampson has won 22 of his 36 matches in charge of England

Mark Sampson has asked his players to relish their new-found status as a team to beat.

The Lionesses have climbed to fourth in the FIFA rankings, thanks in no small part to their record run at last year’s World Cup.

They opened up their Euro 2017 qualifying campaign with two wins from two, over Estonia and Bosnia, but only rescued a draw against Belgium late on in Rotherham on Friday night.

Bosnia v England

UEFA Women's Euro 2017
Group 7 qualifier
3pm BST, Tuesday 12 April
in Zenica, Bosnia & Herzegovina

Next up is an away match in Bosnia on Tuesday afternoon – and Sampson has urged his players to stay patient against an expectedly unadventurous opponent, as witnessed in Bristol in November.

He said: “There are only three teams in the world who we are not expected to win against and the players are starting to get used to that pressure.

“It’s something new for us. For the last couple of years, England have been looked at as a team with potential, but now we’ve actually delivered big results and consistent performances against the top nations.

“People now see us a major contender for the European Championship and a big scalp.

“We saw on Friday night and in Bristol that teams are going to set themselves up to give us as many problems as they possibly can. We’re expecting exactly that from Bosnia again. They will be organised defensively, they will stay in shape and not commit many bodies to attack.

“We will have to find a solution for that.”

Friday night’s draw with Belgium has introduced a different pressure to the qualifying campaign. England are second in Group 7, a point behind Belgium with a game in hand.

The top team in each group will make it through to next summer’s finals alongside the six best runners-up, while the final two runners-up will go into a play-off.

Sampson believes his side must now win every remaining group match to ensure automatic qualification.

He added: “What are the type of scenarios you want to face going into the Euros? You want to play the best opponents, you want to play in front of big crowds, you want to be on TV and you want to play, fundamentally, in must-win matches.

“We’re now in a position where there is a bit more pressure on our qualification group.

“Suddenly, people from the outside might be thinking ‘maybe England won’t top this group’. But they are pressures that we’ve got to manage. Handling that pressure in this qualifying phase will give us experiences that, potentially, some other teams won’t get.

“This is a big game for England. We need to get a win on the scoreboard. The players understand that and we’re excited to play under that pressure. I’ve got some fantastic footballers who I’m confident will take that pressure on board and give it a right good go.

“If you look at the bigger picture, though, I’m absolutely confident that we’ll qualify from this group and we’ll qualify in top spot.”

By Glenn Lavery in Zenica, Bosnia