If you go back four years, you would be talking up an England side ahead of a World Cup semi-final against the USA. Those four years on, and the identical task is what is facing the Lionesses this evening. Not favourites, but also not exactly outsiders, Phil Neville’s side go into this game with optimism and confidence, and why wouldn’t they? After a shaky and unconvincing group stage, there were doubts amongst the fanbase and the media as to whether England are genuine contenders, yet since then, wins over Cameroon and Norway have brought upon a feeling similar to what the men’s team gave the country a year ago.
Another World Cup semi-final awaits an England football team. Such optimism ran through the veins of everyone involved in football 12 months ago, even those who’ve never seen or cared about a football match before. There was pub fever, from Croydon Box Park to the average local, when England were playing, whatever you had planned was dropped. This summer, however, there hasn’t been such a buzz. Sure, the women’s game doesn’t quite have the same pull, but that’s all about to change. With 7.6m tuning in to see the Lionesses overcome Norway, over 10m are expected to watch tonight’s clash with the USA.
The expectation has grown and with it the attention. In France, there is more focus on the men’s September friendlies, but back home on social media, there’s not much else being talked about. #ItsComingHome was the satirical anthem of last summer, and with the wonder of hindsight, it’s being sung a tad more cautiously this time around. The heartbreak of last summer for the nation left behind a depression. The end of the summer. Should the Lionesses be defeated tonight, there will be no such feeling. Not because there’s less importance or care in the women’s game, but for the exact opposite. This years’ World Cup has achieved what it set out to do. It’s got people talking about the sport, players are becoming household names. Most importantly, a legend of the game in Marta delivered a passion-filled speech after their defeat to France. What keeps the sport going is the fans and the next generation.
Talk of equal pay with men and other issues that currently remain are there for now, but not for too much longer. With supply and demand being the economic model to many walks of life, women’s football may never hit the heights of the men’s, but all eyes will be watching the final on July 7 in Lyon. If England should make it there, it would be another mission accomplished. Winning would be unbelievable, but the hard work of making the game available and interesting to the masses has already been achieved.