England Women's World Cup success is a lesson for the men

For the first time in 25 years England are in a World Cup semi-final – how did they do it?

World Cup
(Image credit: 2015 Getty Images)

England are just 90 minutes away from a first appearance in a football World Cup final for 49 years after the women's team beat the hosts Canada in the Women's World Cup to secure a place in the last four of the tournament – the first time an English team has made it that far since the men's side in 1990, a quarter of a century ago.

"The 1966 side might stand alone as the most revered in English history but, in the football boom that followed the 1990 semi-final, there is an argument that the legacy of Sir Bobby Robson's team was equally significant," says Jeremy Wilson in the Daily Telegraph. "The hope for the women's game is that events in Canada will provide a similar, game-changing, catalyst."

It may already have done so, says Louise Taylor of The Guardian. The 2-1 win over the host nation in front of a crowd of 54,000 in Vancouver, attracted a TV audience of 1.6 million people in the UK, even though the game did not kick off until 12.30am on Sunday.

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The match "promises to be a breakthrough moment for the female game in England", she says.

The 2-1 win over Canada came courtesy of goals from Jodie Taylor and Lucy Bronze, but that is only half the story. The 'Lionesses' also showed determination and character as the hosts, cheered on by a partisan crowd, searched for an equaliser.

"England are not the most technically gifted team in this tournament but they have an extraordinary unity of purpose," says Taylor. And they benefit from "a lack of ego-fuelled internal politicking, a willingness to sacrifice personal glory for the squad's wider good and a refusal to succumb to boredom or homesickness".

It's a stark contrast to their male counterparts. "Theirs is a mindset conspicuous by its absence in all too many of the country's equivalent male teams and has invested England with a long-craved credibility... Talk about a wake-up call for the pampered ensembles managed by Roy Hodgson and Gareth Southgate."

Even the sceptics are being won over. Former England player Jamie Redknapp, writing in the Daily Mail, admitted his view of women's football had been stereotypical. "Poor goalkeepers, weak players, goals from mistakes, a lack of interest."

But he says the result against Canada "should make us all take notice, not just for the victory but for the football they played".

"They have galvanised interest and we all want to know if they can keep the feel-good factor going. They're certainly making a better fist of it than the men's senior team."

Their success is no accident, says Carrie Dunn in The Times. "Reaching a World Cup semi-final is a groundbreaking achievement but just reward for a complete revamp of elite women's football in England.

"The FA's commitment to funding and promoting the England team, including offering central contracts to govern international commitments, is admirable and is particularly noteworthy during this tournament when it has become clear that so many countries continue to neglect their women's teams."

So what are the chances of England making the final?

England face Japan in the semi-final, and they are "very much the tournament's Barcelona", warns Louise Taylor of the Guardian. "Their blend of improvisation and incision promises to offer a realistic litmus test of England's potential."

Possession has been England's achilles heel and they are likely to get even less of it that usual against Japan, who are also the reigning World Cup champions.

England play Japan on Wednesday night, coverage begins at 11.20pm on BBC, kick-off at midnight

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