Starlet Stanway shows the way as England move forward with optimism
Nice (France) (AFP)
It was England's youngest player who summed up the strength in depth available to coach Phil Neville as they defeated Japan on Wednesday to finish the group phase of the women's World Cup with a perfect record.
Georgia Stanway, the 20-year-old from Manchester City, had made two cameo appearances as a substitute in the wins over Scotland and Argentina before being thrown in from the start against the 2011 World Cup winners.
"When we named the team I think she was a bit surprised, and she looked a little bit nervous, and what we said to her was just pretend she was in the park in Cumbria with her friends because that is when she is at her best," Neville said of the player from the region of north-west England.
Stanway duly set up the opening goal for Ellen White, her future colleague at City who also scored the second in a 2-0 win in Nice.
"If she keeps her feet on the ground, if she keeps progressing, keeps working hard, keeps listening to the coaches, she is going to be one of the best players in world football," added Neville.
White described her as "an unbelievable talent", but what are the chances of Stanway being on the field at the start in England's last-16 tie in Valenciennes on Sunday?
Neville has chopped and changed his team throughout the tournament, making eight alterations to his line-up on Wednesday.
It is an approach similar to that of the United States coach, Jill Ellis, who handed appearances to every single outfield player in her squad over the first two group matches.
In contrast, Corinne Diacre, coach of hosts France -- the other big favourites -- has indicated that she has only "13 or 14 players who can start" games.
- 'A deep team' -
Only captain Steph Houghton, midfielder Jill Scott and the right-back Lucy Bronze have started every game so far for England, who had never previously won all three group matches at a World Cup.
"That is the strength of this squad, of this team, and we have known that from the very beginning that we can play any team, any players," said Bronze.
"I think we definitely proved that we're a deep team, that we're resilient and that we can chop and change the team to suit our own style but also the opposition's style as well," added goalkeeper Karen Bardsley, the Californian native who at 34 is the old head in the squad.
For a side ranked third in the world, a last-16 tie at the Stade du Hainaut against one of the best third-placed finishers from the other groups will hold no fear, even if England would not know the exact identity of their opponents until late on Thursday.
Those willing to look further forward may feel that England can also be confident of winning a prospective quarter-final against either Norway or Australia, but that would probably lead to a clash with France or the USA in the last four.
"We are nowhere near there yet, we have still got to get the round of 16 out of the way and the quarter-finals before we are even in contention to play the US. Every team is tough from now," warned Rachel Daly, another of those given a chance by Neville against Japan, and who plays in the US for the Houston Dash.
? 2019 AFP