Steph realises importance of Lionesses' French exam

Wednesday 19 Oct 2016
Steph Houghton has earned 75 caps since making her debut in 2007

In terms of a preparation match for a major tournament, it doesn’t get much more difficult than pitting yourself against the third best side in the world – a side you haven’t beaten for 42 years.

That’s the scenario England Women face when they welcome France to Doncaster Rovers’ Keepmoat Stadium on Friday.

The last time England defeated Les Bleues was at Plough Lane on 11 November 1974. They have lost nine and drawn six of the subsequent 15 matches, including a 1-0 defeat at last year’s World Cup.

England v France

A Women's International
8pm, Friday 21 October 2016
Keepmoat Stadium, Doncaster
Tickets priced £7.50 adults, £3.50 concessions
Live on BBC Red Button

But Lionesses captain Steph Houghton knows this is exactly the sort of challenge her side must confront in the build-up to next summer’s European Championship finals.

She said: “You don’t get much tougher than France but we have to test ourselves against these sorts of teams to see where we are.

“We want to play against the best teams leading into the Euros. It will give us an indication of where we are at as a squad and what we need to work on.

“It’s a huge game for us.”

The Euro 2017 warm-up matches are coming thick and fast.

Mark Sampson’s side will take on Spain in Guadalajara next Tuesday and Euro hosts Netherlands in Tilburg on Tuesday 29 November, just over two weeks after the finals draw.

Houghton said: “We wanted to qualify as early as we possibly could.

“We are seeded in the top pot and we’ve got to make sure that when next July comes around we are still one of the best teams in Europe.

“We’re all looking forward to the Euros and we want to be the best prepared team going there.”

Houghton has started every England match in 2016 and has subsequently been named on the shortlist for Vauxhall England Women’s Player of the Year, alongside Jordan Nobbs, Karen Carney and Man City club mate Jill Scott.

She added: “To be fair, I had very little to do at the back this year, it’s been all about how the rest of the team performed really.

“But I’m honoured to go up alongside Jill, Kaz and Jordan, who have all performed really well.”

Gilly Flaherty has been forced to withdraw from the squad with a hamstring injury.

By Glenn Lavery