England head coach Phil Neville brushed off comments from Cameroon head coach Alain Djeumfa suggesting the Lionesses have “many weaknesses.”
Djeumfa, who took over as the Cameroon head coach in January, said in his pre-match press conference that his side would be able to show “exactly what we are made of” but did call England a “great” side and praised Neville.
Djeumfa said, “Cameroon is gaining in strength and taking baby steps. We will be the underdogs but we have something up our sleeves.
“England has some weaknesses. They have many weaknesses, but we don’t need to list them. I have written them down and have them in my head. England is one of the top dogs in women’s football, we are ranked 46th. Phil is someone I followed very closely. He was a household name who made us dream. But he’s not on the pitch, he’s on the side and I’m delighted to have come up against his team.”
Speaking hours later, Neville responded when asked about Djeumfa’s comments.
“I thought he spoke nicely about me,” laughed Neville, before adding, “If you watch England, you will be watching to find weaknesses. They are very unpredictable, they’re not the 46th best team in the world, they are better than that.
“They have dangerous players in the attacking third and will go for victory. They will flood players forward and gamble to win games. We have to defend well against that but exploit their own weaknesses by the amount of players they send forward.”
Neville confirmed every player is fit for the match and praised Rachel Daly and Georgia Stanway, in particular, for their performances on their first World Cup starts against Japan.
When asked if his rotation policy would continue into the knockout rounds, Neville said the players not being selected are every bit as important as those who are.
“Georgia Stanway is ready to play any game and Rachel Daly was a standout player. She was outstanding and never let me down. When we have unit meetings she has to go in all three!
“I think the players not being selected is the reason we won the games. The support and encouragement and in training the attitude has been fantastic. It’s a major part of what we are about. Now the disappointment and emotion gets stronger, it’s impossible to keep 23 players happy. It’s about winning, individuals don’t matter. It’s 23 players who want to be successful.”
But Neville wouldn’t be drawn too much on whether his rotation policy would remain in place now that the knockout rounds have started, stating, “we’re one day from the quarterfinals — and one from going home,” but stood firm on the fact his team have to play a certain style of football.
“There’s still got to be science,” he said when asked about picking a team for a game where the team has had little preparation time. “I have to pick a team to win this game. I never thought changes versus Japan were a risk, rotation is part of football now. To ask a player to play seven games is an awful lot. You have to utilize and trust your squad. They won’t have a clue about our team and tactics and players enjoy it because everybody has a chance of being involved and that will continue.”
Neville added, “We have to play a certain way. We are not going to start playing differently and the players will never be criticized for doing the right thing. Over 18 months have made mistakes and not been scared to do the right things, as long as we do that we will be successful. The style of football is here to stay, I will live and die by the values we have instilled.”
England has never faced Cameroon, but Team GB did face them at the London 2012 Olympics, a game midfielder Jill Scott was involved in and the midfielder said she would be expecting a “physical” match based on her previous encounter.
The Lionesses have often looked fatigued in the second half of games during the tournament and Neville admits he’s been doing some thinking about the fact he can’t expect his teams to dominate every game for 90 minutes.
“Large parts have been fantastic,” he said. “In a World Cup, teams are fighting for their lives, they are well-organized and technical. There will be periods when you have to defend and show other qualities. I’m not concerned by anything I’ve seen.”