England Women’s boss Mark Sampson believes his side are better equipped to win Euro 2017 after finishing third in the SheBelieves Cup in America.
Although they lost two of their three matches, a credible 0-0 draw with Les Bleues on the final day allowed them to pip the French to third place.
England 0-0 France
The SheBelieves Cup
Wednesday 9 March
Florida Atlantic University Stadium
And Sampson reckons his charges leave the competition in much better shape than when they arrived.
He said: “We are a lot closer [to USA, Germany and France].
“We have just got to keep chipping away at these teams and we’ll get there.
“The whole world knows that we are in a better place than we were 10 days ago. That’s one flying day, one rest day, three training sessions and three matches.
“That’s how much this team have grown in that period.
“We’ve got the European Championship to focus on now and we’ll give that our best shot. We want to try and win some matches and we know that by the time the Euros come around we’ll be there or thereabouts.
“We are very, very close and I'm really pleased with the journey we've come on. We’ve got two bronze medals now, but they will turn to gold the way we are playing and the way we are growing as a group.”
The France match was a memorable one for Eniola Aluko, who came off the bench to make her 100th England appearance – becoming just the tenth Lioness to do so.
The Chelsea striker made her debut against Netherlands in November 2004 and has scored 33 international goals.
Sampson added: “A big congratulations to Eniola Aluko. She is a real special talent and a special player.
“She has come through a tough time. She has spent some time on the bench since the start of the World Cup, but she has stayed with the team.
“You could see the reaction of the captain [Steph Houghton, who gave Aluko the armband] which was not pre-empted. That just speaks volumes of this team and the way they have reacted to Eni in the dressing room.
“It was really, really special for Eni and I’m delighted for her and really proud of her. I’m sure she’s looking forward to getting home and celebrating with her family.”
Sampson congratulated his players for the way they bounced back from a difficult first half, against the wind, to take the game to France after the break.
Demi Stokes, Katie Chapman and Jordan Nobbs all had decent chances to win the match, but the head coach was pleased with the character he saw in Boca Raton.
He explained: “The nice thing is that you could see how gutted the players were to not win the game.
“If we’d have come off the pitch having lost narrowly to France we’d have probably been quite happy before. But the mentality within this group now is that we want to win these games.
“We played France in the Cyprus Cup two years ago and we barely touched the ball. It could have been 10-0 that day.
“Everyone hammered us when we played them at the World Cup because we didn't quite go toe-to-toe with them.
“But today it was a game of two halves.
“Second half I thought we were outstanding. Let's not forget who we were playing. This was a French team that could have won both their first two games 3-0. They could have won 3-0 tonight, but then so could we have.
“We had to tidy up on a few things but I seriously think the wind had a big impact. And I need to give the girls a pat on the back for the first half because that was really hard.
“We just need to keep the belief. We need to remember that in games like this chances hardly come around.
“But we are going to get more chances and that composure will come.”
Next up is a Euro 2017 qualifier against Belgium at Rotherham United on Friday 8 April, 7.55pm KO.
Tickets for the game are on sale now priced £5 for adults and £2.50 for children. A family ticket (two adults and two children) is available at £10 and group booking discounts apply.
Tickets can be bought via TheFA.com/Tickets, by calling 08444 140 754 or in person at the Rotherham United ticket office.