SheBelieves Cup: England v USA preview

England lost 2-1 to the USA the last time they met in the World Cup semi-final in July
SheBelieves Cup 2020
Dates: 5-11 March Venues: Exploria Stadium (Orlando, Florida), Red Bull Arena (New Jersey), Toyota Stadium (Frisco, Texas)
Coverage: TV coverage of every England game on BBC Two/BBC Four and BBC iPlayer. Live text coverage on the BBC website.

Ballon d’Or winner Megan Rapinoe says the rivalry between the USA and England is “huge” as the teams prepare to face each other for the first time since last summer’s World Cup semi-final.

The world champions beat England 2-1 in July after Ellen White had a goal disallowed for offside by VAR and Steph Houghton’s penalty was saved.

They face each other in the SheBelieves Cup in Orlando – kick-off Friday at 00:00 GMT – with England the defending champions.

“We’re the ones that have the number one on our backs and the big target but we understand that every team is gunning for us. It’s one of their biggest games of the year,” said 34-year-old Rapinoe who has scored 51 goals for the US and won two World Cup titles.

“We know who our toughest rivals are. The World Cup semi-final was a close game. I think it was decided by a long toe nail.”

England are seeking just a third win in eight games, while the USA have won 11 out of 12 games, conceding just three goals, but USA midfielder Julie Ertz says “they are a good team regardless” of a dip in form.

“We take every game seriously, especially against such good opponents,” said Ertz. “It was a huge game in 2019 but it is 2020 now.

“I don’t think this is a match we will ever take lightly.”

England coach Neville says England need to “put their money where their mouth is” and is not afraid of throwing young players in against the world champions.

There are three uncapped players in the England squad, including seven graduates from the under-20s group who won bronze at the World Cup two years ago.

Neville says he “trusts” them to play against the USA and “some of them” will be in the team. “We’re not fearful of failing,” he added.

“The easiest thing would have been to name the squad, celebrate these young players and then put them to one side,” said Neville.

“The message that I want to send out is that these players have to play in the best and biggest games. There will be young players that either start or definitely take part in the game.

“It would be weak of me as a manager to not play them in the biggest occasions.”

‘I play with no fear’ – Hemp

Neville said he informed his players of the starting XI for the USA game on Wednesday and Manchester City forward Lauren Hemp, 19, could be one of those selected.

Hemp has scored five goals in her past 10 league starts for Manchester City and said she will “play with no fear” should she be given an opportunity in Orlando.

“I’m just going to play my game and hopefully show everyone that I can beat any right-back that I come up against,” said Hemp.

“It’s just having that confidence to take players on and know I have the ability.”

Eight months ago, Hemp watched England “on TV at home” during the World Cup but says she wants to “prove that I should be here” for the SheBelieves Cup.

She plays alongside experienced internationals Houghton and Jill Scott at club level and avoids the limelight, but back home in Norwich Hemp is starting to get recognised thanks to her impressive form in the Women’s Super League.

“I don’t get spotted often in Manchester because I feel like there are a lot of celebrities around,” said Hemp.

“But I did get noticed in my chip shop once. It probably wasn’t the best place to get recognised. I wasn’t actually getting something. It was some young girls from the local side that I had played for so it was nice that they recognised me.”

No Bronze or Mead – who will England start?

England right-back Lucy Bronze was forced to withdraw from the squad with a calf injury but her natural replacement Rachel Daly of Houston Dash has not played a competitive match since the 3-2 victory over the Czech Republic in November as it’s the off-season in the National Women’s Soccer League.

It leaves Neville with a selection headache in the full-back position, while goalkeeper Ellie Roebuck is also a doubt after picking up an injury in the 3-3 draw with Chelsea just over a week ago.

Arsenal forward Beth Mead is also absent through injury so there is a place up for grabs in attack, which Hemp will hope to take advantage of.

And asked whether in-form Chelsea striker Beth England will start, Neville said: “She will definitely play in this tournament. She has earned the right to start games for England.

“I think I am probably the luckiest manager alive. I have got the best striker in the WSL and one of the best strikers in the world in the same squad.”

Reaching out to Houghton and being wary of England

Steph Houghton had to be consoled by her team-mates at the final whistle after 84th-minute spot-kick was saved by USA goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher in last summer’s World Cup semi-final

USA forward Carli Lloyd says she reached out to former Manchester City team-mate Houghton after the England captain missed a penalty in the World Cup semi-final.

“I reached out to several of the players because there’s a human element there,” said Lloyd. “I feel what they have gone through. I missed a penalty in the 2011 World Cup final – it’s never a good feeling.

“I gave her [Houghton] some time and I reached out to several of them but Steph in particular, because you’re captain of the team, you’re a leader, you’re brave enough to step up and take a penalty in that pressure situation. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s not good.

“I said ‘you just learn from it and keep plotting along’. She’s always been one of my favourite players to play with.”

One player hoping to make an impact against the USA is Chelsea striker Bethany England, who was not involved in the England squad at the World Cup.

USA’s Lavelle says she has been “keeping tabs” on the Women’s Super League, including England’s goalscoring form and the “games are always competitive every week.”

“There are a lot of good players going there [to the WSL] so it’s an exciting time for them, the fans and women’s soccer in general,” said Lavelle.

“[Beth England] has been scoring bangers so we’ll have to keep an eye on her!” she added.

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