Phil Neville says he hasn’t discussed any previous encounters between England and Argentina with his team ahead of Friday’s World Cup clash in Le Havre.
Neville wasn’t involved in any of the dramatic World Cup clashes between the two in 1998 and 2002, while the women’s sides have only met once before, a one-sided 6–1 win for the Lionesses in 2007.
With both teams having changed vastly since, though Argentina still have the same head coach, Neville admitted it would be “silly” to look back too far into the past.
“We haven’t talked about my experiences playing against Argentina,” he said. “I don’t think I even played. I was sub in one game, I think. When we went to Qatar, Jill [Scott] talked about her experiences in 2007. They haven’t got the rivalry on the women’s side but it would be silly referencing the [Michael] Owen goal, the [David] Beckham sending off, and the Hand of God goal because this is a fixture that hasn’t been played that often.
“But, I’ve told the players this is a proud nation. When you come up against a big powerful football nation, you are playing against history. When you talk about street football you are talking about South American players who have grown up with nothing. This is what this Argentinian team is.”
Neville did admit the rivalry between the two years had been “outstanding” and said his side has to handle the proud history of both nations when the game kicks off on Friday night.
Argentina, ranked 37th in the world, earned their first point in Women’s World Cup history against 2015 finalists and 2011 champions Japan last week in what was a surprise to many people.
But after a gutsy defensive display and some shows of their technical ability in attack, Neville said he wasn’t surprised by their performance.
“It didn’t really surprise me. After the influx of goals early in the tournament, you’ve had tight games like Canada and the Netherlands.
“We’ve not seen them as organized and determined as we did against Japan. I think they caught Japan by surprise. It will be man to man marking, defenders who want to defend and be aggressive. It will be hard to break them down.
“We were planning to play against a team that will sit back and defend more than Scotland. Players in tight spaces, very few chances to receive it in easy positions. We’ve worked hard on our play in the final third. I’ve compared it with some of the games we had in qualifying. But, we have to defend well too and make sure when players get the ball in the final third they are relaxed and free to express themselves.”
With the game now less than 24 hours away, Neville has almost a fully fit squad to rely on but doesn’t expect to have Toni Duggan available, admitting the forward is still “struggling” with a thigh injury and will likely not feature.
“It’s just Toni struggling to make the squad tomorrow,” he said. “She’s come on leaps and bounds since Scotland, it’s probably a day or two too soon for her but she’ll be back for Japan.
Demi Stokes and Millie Bright also trained fully ahead of the game. “Demi [Stokes] looked really good in training. I think there will be one or two changes, a couple of positions we want to freshen up in but I was pleased about Scotland and those players deserve the right to go again.”
Stokes herself spoke of the role she’s taken on while being absent through injury after Alex Greenwood played in the opener against Scotland last week.
“When you come to tournament football, anyone can play,” said the left back. “It’s not about who is better, everyone has a role to play and everyone has their strengths.
“It’s about just being ready and staying ready and when your moment comes, delivering. Don’t get me wrong, you always want to play, but that’s football and there’s a lot of games.”