Defending the trophy they won last year is the ultimate goal when England begin their SheBelieves Cup campaign on Thursday night against the United States, but there will be another overarching ambition for Phil Neville’s side in Florida.
The trophy England won this time last year was their first at the invitational competition in four attempts. It gave them confidence going into the 2019 Women’s World Cup, proving they could compete with – and overcome – the Americans, the best side in the world.
The US have long been at the pinnacle of international women’s football, dominating both the world rankings and major tournaments.
And while England may have come out on top at the last SheBelieves Cup, where they drew 2-2 with the US and beat Japan to finish top of the four-team table, there is no doubt who holds the upper hand now.
Neville’s side lost 2-1 to the US in the semi-final of last summer’s World Cup, which the favourites then went on to win for a record fourth time. The Lionesses have not won any of their three meetings since their 1-0 win at the 2017 SheBelieves Cup.
So, with Neville emphasising the desire to instil a winning mentality in his team, what better place to start than against the best?
“This is not development football, this is winning football, this is senior football,” Neville told Sky Sports this week. “We’ve got a young team but a team that now needs to come together and start creating their own stories and their own avenues for success.”
England are now ranked sixth in the world and, although Neville has lofty aims, his 23-player squad does have one eye on the future, with eight players under the age of 23.
The US, meanwhile, will be without World Cup top-scorer Alex Morgan in Orlando tomorrow evening, but the depth of their playing pool is such that she may not even be missed against England, Japan and Spain over the next week.
It is the strength of their squad, who are now led by Vlatko Andonovski after long-time coach Jill Ellis stepped down in October, which marks the US out compared to the Lionesses.
“Hopefully by next year our depth will have turned from youth talent backing up senior talent to strength on strength,” England defender Leah Williamson told City A.M. last month.
“That’s where the USA are strong. They never have the same XI, which is pretty incredible. We’ve definitely got more depth than, say, Holland, who play the same 12 players on repeat with one or two changes. But I’m aware of it.”
To become the best, England must first learn from them and they have already taken one proactive step, recruiting highly respected sports scientist Dawn Scott after nine years with the US team.
They may have pinched one of their backroom staff, but for now there remains a sizeable gulf between No6 and No1. Victory tomorrow evening would be the perfect start on the journey to bridge that gap.