Jodie Taylor says she remembers England’s win against Friday night’s opponents Canada at the 2015 World Cup “like it was just yesterday,” as the two nations prepare for their first meeting since that evening in Vancouver.
Taylor, who will be 33 when the 2019 tournament gets underway and likely the oldest outfield player in the Lionesses’ squad, struck the opener in front of 54,000 Canadian fans in the quarterfinal four years ago, describes it as one of her more memorable moments in football.
“I would have to say it’s one of my favorite games of all time,” said the Reign FC forward. “Just everything about it. BC Place was unbelievable, filling the whole stadium with mainly Canadian fans, and just the nature of the game, it being a quarter-final.
“The pressure of England having never got beyond that stage [at a Women’s World Cup]. It was the way we won it, playing there and Canada being the host nation. One of my favorite moments was scoring that goal, it absolutely silenced the crowd. When we were 2–0 up and they scored and the whole place just shook and it was just insane. Just to win that game — it was, wow.”
Canada 2015 was Taylor’s first World Cup with England, less than 12 months after making her senior debut at the age of 28.
Taylor will be 35 when Euro 2021 rolls around so France could prove to be her second and final World Cup with the Lionesses.
But the golden boot winner at Euro 2017 is relishing being fully fit after struggling with injury throughout the 2015 World Cup.
“It’s crazy to think I managed to play the whole 90 minutes in Vancouver,” said Taylor. “Unfortunately, I was having to play catch-up with my knee. I didn’t know if I’d be selected for the World Cup. I was but I didn’t even know until half way through if I’d even be able to play, but now I’m fully fit so to stay fully fit and healthy is now obviously goal for the next couple of months.”
England changed head coaches soon after the Euros with Phil Neville replacing Mark Sampson but Friday’s opponents Canada have also undergone a change at the top since the World Cup, with Kenneth Heiner-Moller replacing Newcastle-born John Herdman after the former head coach switched to the men’s side.
Taylor is based not far from the Canadian border since returning to the Reign and played with Canada international Adriana Leon until the latter moved to West Ham United in January.
“A lot of their girls play in the USA, they’ve got some big players,” said Taylor. “The former coach [Herdman] did an excellent job of bringing some young players through and now they’ve got an excellent blend of experience and youth.
“I don’t know much about the new coach or where they’re at now but it’s going to be a hard game. I know they’re well organized — I’m sure they’ve still got what happened in 2015 in Vancouver at the back of their minds, so it’s going to be a big test for us.”
Mead in Top Form
One of the players pushing Taylor along is current Arsenal forward Beth Mead. The 23-year-old only made her debut a year ago this week as a substitute against Wales but 10 caps and four goals later, Mead is now a permanent and valuable fixture in Neville’s squad.
But going into the recent SheBelieves Cup, Mead was substituted at halftime in a 2–0 defeat at home to Sweden and needed a big performance in the United States, a test she passed with flying colors.
An instinctive and brilliant goal against Brazil was followed up with a neat solo effort against Japan, ensuring few players did more to impress as England lifted the trophy than Mead, who is also in top form for Arsenal.
“I’m really enjoying my football at the moment,” she said. “I was lucky to have a good tournament out at the SheBelieves Cup, scored a couple of goals and helped the team to ultimately win it.”
Reflecting on her first 12 months as a senior international, Mead said, “It’s a year to this camp, last April. I’ve been in the England setup since I was 12 and I’ve worked my way up every age group, and I guess on and off the pitch they kind of get it into your DNA how to become and what is expected from you as an England player.
“I’ve been lucky enough that the girls that are in and around the camp now I’ve either played against or with at younger age groups, who make it considerably easier to come into the camp and make it feel a lot more like home than it being something alien when you come into it. The girls are amazing when you come into the camp and make you feel at home straight away.”
Mead hasn’t played against Canada or Tuesday’s opponents Spain in her time with the Lionesses but the Arsenal striker, who has predominantly found herself playing out wide this season, is relishing the new challenges.
“I was saying earlier that it’s nice to play against different teams,” she said. “We played against Brazil, who were very technical, USA were fit and grind out results regardless, won major competitions, and Japan keep a lot of the ball.
“Spain are going to be quite similar to that, keeping a lot of possession, so I guess it’s a test of us, if we don’t have a lot of possession, how do we react to that, can we grind out a result, can we create opportunities still. So I think testing ourselves against these top teams is really exciting and good for us as a team and preparation for the World Cup.”
If Mead is indeed named in Neville’s squad for the World Cup when he makes his announcement in the next month or so, it could coincide with Mead winning her first FA Women’s Super League title, with Arsenal needing two wins from their final three games to secure their first title since 2012.
With Champions League football already in the bag, Mead is aware of what a special few months could lie ahead of her.
“I know we’ve said we need to keep focused, myself individually and as a team. I’ve still got to do my job for Arsenal and we’ve still got to win a league, we’ve still got three games to play and we still need to do our job there.
“But obviously in the back of your mind there is always that — am I going to get selected for England, am I going to go to a World Cup, what can I do for this team, what can I do on and off the training pitch to help myself in both aspects? So it’s hard, but I think you need a good time to relax, switch yourself off sometimes. When you’re on it, you’re on it and you’re focused, and that’s all you aim to do.”
It therefore begs the question of whether or not winning the FA WSL and the World Cup in one summer is such an outlandish proposition for someone still so relatively inexperienced at the very top level.
“No, it’s not at all. It’s really exciting, but I guess one step at a time with each game I play. So now I’m in England mode, I’m focused on England and then when I go back to my club I’ll be focused on them until, hopefully, fingers crossed, I’m selected for the England squad and I can prepare for a World Cup.”
Mead has now enjoyed a taste of silverware with England after helping her team win the SheBelieves Cup last month, and the 23-year-old believes the success was as much about creating a winning mentality within the squad as it was picking up a trophy for the first time since the 2015 Cyprus Cup.
“I think so,” she admitted. “We went there with an expectation to win, we put that pressure on ourselves, and we delivered. There’s a lot of things that go on within tournaments — obviously, USA had their female idols on the back of their shirts for International Women’s Day — and we were focused on what we wanted to do within the tournament and didn’t let ourselves get distracted by anything.
“I think that was key for us, to know throughout the tournament: yes, there is going to be things that happen and little distractions, but we need to know that we are focused within what we want to do, who we are, and what we represent as a team, as an outfit, and that will be how we move forward, and hopefully it works for us again in a World Cup.”