England are back at St. George’s Park this week as the final leg of preparations for next month’s Euro 2017 begin with fitness testing ahead of this weekend’s friendly match against Denmark.
After a quick trip to Copenhagen to face Nils Nielsen’s side, manager Mark Sampson will take his squad of 23 to a warm weather camp in Valencia, Spain, before the team finally embarks to the Netherlands ahead of their opener against neighbors Scotland.
One player set for heavy involvement is Birmingham City striker Ellen White, the 28-year-old having had a good start to the year for Lionesses, scoring a famous last-minute goal against the United States on its home turf at the SheBelieves Cup.
White doubled her tally for the year with a header in a 3-0 win over Austria, and the team has now scored seven goals in its last two matches, both against sides who will join them in the Netherlands next month.
“As strikers, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be clinical and score goals,” she admitted. “We work hard in training on the connection between defense and midfield and midfield and attack. We have fantastic players who will hopefully click together in the summer — we have players who can score from anywhere on the pitch.”
Attack is an area Sampson hasn’t been short of options in since taking over at the end of 2013. As well as White, Sampson also has Toni Duggan, Nikita Parris, Jodie Taylor, and Karen Carney available to him, plus a fit again Fran Kirby, the latter White believes is a timely boost for the whole squad.
She said, “I’m absolutely delighted for Fran. I’ve been in that situation when you’ve been out for a long time. It’s mentally challenging but she’s performed so well for Chelsea, she’s been firing on all cylinders. It’s fantastic for us of course because she plays for England.”
Regular goals have been an issue for England during and since the 2015 World Cup, especially in the big games in which the Lionesses haven’t scored more than once against the U.S., Germany, and France.
Jodie Taylor’s brace against Switzerland last week took her tally to three for the year, one ahead of White and attacking midfielder Jordan Nobbs.
But the majority of Sampson’s attacking options were in top form during the recent Spring Series. White herself scored a couple for her new club Birmingham, while Taylor scored another three for Arsenal.
Duggan scored four for Manchester City, including a hat trick against Bristol City, and Kirby scored an incredible six despite missing a chunk of the eight-game series.
Nobbs, Jill Scott, and Karen Carney scored 11 between them and White believes “peace of mind” played a big role in the form of players after the squad was announced at the start of April.
“We were all excited to be back playing and to have been picked,” she said. “We all went back to our clubs after international duty and enjoyed playing football, we had fun.
“We’re peaking at the right time. It can be a difficult situation to know when the squad is being announced, Mark announced it early to give us that reassurance and most of the girls have been on fire for their clubs.”
White herself joined Birmingham under new manager Marc Skinner just several months before her previous club Notts County folded on the eve of the first weekend of the Spring Series.
A couple of goals and an FA Cup final later, White is already looking ahead to the full winter season beginning in September.
“I’ve really enjoyed it at Birmingham, we had a great cup run but obviously not the result we wanted in the final [Birmingham lost, 1-4, to Manchester City].
“The Spring Series didn’t go completely to plan as we would have liked, we wanted to be up there but I felt really welcome, I had a good few months getting to know the team. We developed as a team, we worked on what we wanted to work, and I’m looking forward to going back there after the Euros.”
Attentions for White, Sampson, and the other 22 members of the squad now turn to next weekend’s friendly against Denmark, a team highly rated and of several potential underdogs who could spring a surprise at this summer’s tournament.
With a forward pairing consisting of Nadia Nadim and Pernille Harder, White is expecting another tough but important test in Copenhagen.
“I think everyone just wants to play against top opposition,” she said. “We’ve played five of the top teams in the world this year already and we’re facing teams now we could potentially play next month.
“It’s about getting exposed to European teams and their styles of play; this should help us work out game plans ahead of the tournament.”
And as if it wasn’t feeling real enough to begin with, the Lionesses kicked off preparations earlier this month with a photoshoot outside Wembley Stadium during the first camp ahead of the tournament.
“It was incredible to have our picture taken outside Wembley with our banner behind us. It’s great to have the whole team together. It’s feeling very real right now and it’s just crazy how quickly it has come around.”