England’s emphatic victory at the 2022 Women’s Euros has been called a watershed moment both for the team and for women’s football. But can this talented side prove their mettle on the biggest stage of all and achieve World Cup glory in 2023?

Tactical writer Abdullah Abdullah once again lifts the lid on a women’s footballing institution, this time through an international lens – deconstructing match tactics, analysing player performances and assessing the key improvements made in Sarina Wiegman’s time in charge.

Abdullah explores the standout tactical profiles from the current generation, including Fran Kirby and Lucy Bronze as well as the future crop, like Leah Williamson and wunderkind Lauren Hemp.

This book dives into the specifics of how this iteration of the Lionesses can perform at the 2023 Women’s World Cup.

Will this be the moment they shed their status as perennial challengers and prove they are the best team in the world?

(Publisher: Pitch Publishing Ltd. April 2023. Paperback: 256 pages)


Buy the book here: Lionesses

Euro Ramblings – Semi-Final: England v Sweden

England’s Lionesses have given the nation a lot to celebrate in the past couple of weeks but none more so than on Tuesday night, which was truly one to remember. Coming up against the second-ranked team in the world, Sweden, fighting for their place in a major final since 2009 and playing in front of an expectant home crowd, you’d be forgiven for thinking it might all be too much for the team, but this is a generation of Lionesses who have benefited from a vastly improved national league and who are led by a cool, clinical and, importantly, winning manager in Sarina Wiegman, so as with every other challenge that has faced them during her tenure, the Lionesses not only did the job, they made it look easy. Is it time perhaps to dream of the impossible: whisper it – It’s coming home!

Audacious Alessia – There has been talk of poor goalkeeping, but such comments are an absolute disservice to Alessia Russo’s audaciously sublime goal. Had Messi scored this, there would be proclamations of his genius, calls to erect statues and have the goal named in his honour. So why not Russo? After all, forgive me if I’m wrong, but I’m not sure there’s been another back-heel nutmeg goal on the world stage (Google seems not to think so either). We’ve got the Cryuff turn, the Panenka, and back-heel nutmeg goal just doesn’t have quite the same ring to it as the Russo, does it? Whether or not the moniker slips into everyday football parlance or not, however, let’s take absolutely nothing away from it. Mere seconds before, Russo had, in truth, missed a sitter. Lesser-calibre players may still have been ruing their chance, standing still watching on, but not so Alessia Russo, who not only ensured she won the ball back, but then had the quickness of thought, skill and chutzpah to try the unexpected, which may just explain for all those naysayers why the Swedish goalkeeper failed to react. It was frankly the last thing anyone would anticipate, unless you’re Alessia Russo. And it was the sort of goal that the Puskas Award was created for, the sort of goal children all over the country attempt, that five-a-side players the world over dream of scoring, and to do so on the European stage in a semi-final is sheer brilliance. No doubt there’ll be a few mini Lionesses on their school holidays today practising the ‘Russo’.

Fighter Fran – Five months ago, Fran Kirby was sidelined from the game, suffering from a fatigue illness. Her inclusion in Sarina Wiegman’s squad may have raised some eyebrows, with question marks over her fitness, her ability to play back-to-back games, to contribute in a meaningful way, but if we’ve learnt anything these last couple of weeks, it’s not to question seer Sarina’s wisdom. And so it’s proved with Fran. The group-stage games may not have seen the Chelsea forward shine as she has done so often, but each proved valuable in building up her match fitness and her confidence, and Tuesday night we saw Fran growing back to her inimitable best. It was a complete performance, with her trademark probing attacking play, culminating in a deserved goal from a speculative effort, as well as a crucial penalty-box tackle that with most forwards would end in a penalty and yellow card. At 29, Fran has been through more than most in the game, on and off the pitch, but there is no doubting that she remains a crucial cog in the Lionesses’ wheel, and with her purring, whoever England face in the final need to be worried.

Immovable Mary – Let’s be honest, if we’re talking about a goalkeeper after a game, it’s usually not a positive, but Mary Earps’ contribution last night was as vital as any of England’s outfield players, if not more so. A save within the first thirty seconds set the tone, not only for Earps’ confidence but for that of the team. Okay, there was a questionable decision on a corner in the first half, but such is the makeup of all goalkeepers, half skittish, half cool as a cucumber. And that was the only moment of doubt in an otherwise flawless performance, from a goalkeeper, who, backed up by her stalwart defence, has only conceded one goal so far this tournament. It was her fingertip save in the second half, though, that really showed her quality, and perhaps it’s just me, but I was very much getting Jordan Pickford for England vibes in Earps’ confident, constant solidity and marshalling at the back. Like Keira Walsh and Millie Bright who have been exceptional throughout the tournament, Mary Earps may go under the radar, but her performance in Sheffield was, without question, a match-winner.

Ultimate Team Player – Debate over team selection will always be one that rages around any football match and in an international tournament, all the more so. For England, that has boiled down in recent games to the simple dichotomy of Russo or White when it comes to the starting XI. But the answer is far from simple, with pros and cons, backers and critics in each camp. For my part, I think Sarina has got it spot on, starting with Ellen who works tirelessly up top from the off, and bringing on Alessio fresh in the second half to take advantage of a jaded defence. There is nothing to say if the roles were reserved it wouldn’t be just as effective, and that given her impressive strike rate Russo doesn’t deserve the start, but tactically it seems to me that White starting and Russo off the bench seems a more effective play. Whatever option is used in the final, both strikers bring an incredible amount to the team, but at 33 White continues to display her quality as the ultimate team player. Her emotion at reaching Sunday’s final was heart-warming, but wouldn’t it just be fitting if England women’s record goalscorer equalled, or dare we even imagine it, surpassed Wayne Rooney as England’s overall top scorer in the final. And then if Russo comes on and scores another worldie too, I think fans of both players will be happy enough.

Final thoughts – A year on from the Three Lions’ breakthrough tournament, football has once again lifted a nation’s spirits. And it’s thrilling to see the Lionesses getting the support and backing of their male counterparts – and, indeed, throughout the tournament, from their male counterparts. Ian Wright has been a notable supporter, but seeing Premier League stars like Bernardo Silva, Joao Cancelo and Harry Maguire out visibly supporting their teams and the tournament has been encouraging. For women who have been involved in the game, the tournament has also inspired a lot of pride. At times, in recent decades, it has been easy to look on and hear talk of progress and growth but really not see it evidenced. The backing given to the WSL, though, does seem to have provided a genuine turning point, but there will be many who fear it may not last. Every tournament there is talk of legacy, of kicking on, of moving forward, but in the past, largely it has proven to be just that – talk. Yes, the game has developed in each of those moments, but it hasn’t seen the sea change that many had hoped. Already, this tournament seems to be setting something in motion, and whilst a second-placed finish would be something to be proud of, winning the Euros, I feel, would have an everlasting effect. There is, to some extent, a feeling of déjà vu, to last summer, when the men had the chance to end 55 years of hurt, but sadly missed out at the final hurdle. Perhaps it’s fate that the women now have the chance to end this long wait for a trophy and how much greater their legacy, the lasting effect, should they be the ones to do so. And, who knows, by Christmas, we could have gone from 56 years without a trophy to winning two in six months, as Women’s Euros champions and Men’s World Cup champions, but I’m not getting carried away.

Jade Craddock

Ten Women’s Super League Books I’d Like to Read by Jade Craddock

(C) FA Women’s Super League

Jade is one of FBR’s talented writers and reviewers and here takes a different slant on our Top Ten Football Books series of articles.

With the Women’s Super League (WSL) celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, women’s football in England has made major leaps in the last decade, and with news of a major broadcasting deal from next season, it looks set to take its biggest step yet. The added visibility and promotion of the game will surely catapult the league into even greater significance – and so too its players, a lot of whom are still not particularly household names, despite their successes. And hopefully this will be a catalyst for the publishing world too in terms of commissioning and publishing more books from the women’s game and, in particular, female footballers’ autobiographies, which traditionally have tended to be few and far between. With that in mind, I’ve put together a list of ten autobiographies of female footballers who have shaped the WSL that I would love to read (there are many, many more I could have added), although whether these impressive women have time to put pen to paper is another matter.

  1. Alex Scott

Alex Scott may be most familiar to a younger generation as an affable and engaging TV presenter on The One Show, a vibrant dancer on Strictly and a consummate pundit on Match of the Day and Sky Sports, but just three years ago she was still plying her trade as one of, if not the best, full-backs of her generation. In many ways, she was the start of the tradition of the modern full-back we see today in the likes of Lucy Bronze and Demi Stokes, and she was a serial winner, with over twenty trophies to her name – a record that trumps the majority of the male pundits she works alongside. Within this haul, she was an integral part of Arsenal’s 2006/07 sextuplet-winning side that scooped the UEFA Women’s Cup Women’s Premier League, FA Women’s Cup, FA Women’s League Cup, FA Women’s Community Shield and London Women’s Cup (a record that is only surpassed by Linfield’s seven trophy hauls) – scoring the winning goal that secured Arsenal their first and only European victories. Alex is also fourth in the list of all-time most capped players for England and has appeared at four Euros and three World Cups as well as the 2012 Olympics. Off the pitch, since retiring, Alex has made a smooth transition into presenting and punditry and has frankly and inspiringly spoken about mental health, and as of 2021/22 she will become the first female presenter of Football Focus. It is undeniable that Alex Scott has been, and continues to be, a real trailblazer.

  1. Karen Carney

For many, Kelly Smith is the greatest English female footballer of all time, but Karen Carney isn’t far behind. A genuine two-footed winger, a player of immense technical skill and artistry, she was in many ways ahead of the times. As well as being part of the most successful Arsenal team ever, she scooped the FA Cup with both Chelsea and her childhood team Birmingham City, where she was also inducted into the Hall of Fame. She was named FA Young Player of the Year in both 2005 and 2006 and was the WSL’s top goal-scorer in 2014. As well as competing in the WSL, Karen spent two seasons playing in the American Women’s Professional Soccer, whilst on the international stage, an impressive 144 England caps sees her sitting third in terms of most capped players. Indeed, she represented England at four European Championships and four World Cups, as well as being part of the victorious SheBelieves Cup triumph in 2019. Since retiring the same year, Karen has moved into the world of punditry and commentary where her football nous is clear to see, but, without doubt, it was on the pitch that she showcased her generational talent.

  1. Fara Williams

When asked to name the most capped England player of all time, you’d be forgiven for thinking Peter Shilton holds that accolade, but you’d be wrong. Shilton’s 125 caps pale by comparison to the 172 caps of the record holder – one Fara Williams. In an England career spanning some two decades, Fara also sits fourth in terms of top goal-scorers for the Lionesses. Add to that outings at the 2012 Olympics, some 200 plus senior club appearances, Young Player of the Year in 2002, FA Players’ Player of the Year in 2009 and FA International Player of the Year in 2007 and 2009, and Fara Williams is more than deserving of recognition. What makes her journey all the more impressive, though, is her well-noted off-field challenges, including being homeless. Having recently announced her retirement from international football, Fara’s stepping back really signifies the end of an era, but one that will last long in the memory and deserves recognition.

  1. Lucy Bronze

If there is one name synonymous with women’s football in England, and perhaps even globally, it is Lucy Bronze. For almost a decade, Lucy Bronze has stepped up to the plate, epitomising the pinnacle of the women’s game not only domestically but internationally. Indeed, she has over twenty individual honours to her name, including being twice recipient of the PFA Women’s Players’ Player of the Year, England Player of the Year and BBC Women’s Footballer of the Year, and being named in the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup All-Star Squad, IFFHS UEFA Woman Team of the Decade and IFFHS World’s Woman Team of the Decade. Even scooping the UEFA Women’s Player of the Year Award in 2019 was bettered by her award of FIFA’s Women’s World Player of the Year in 2020, following the likes of such icons of the women’s game as Marta and Megan Rapinoe. As well as featuring in an England shirt, Bronze has gained recognition during her time at Liverpool, Manchester City and notably Olympique Lyonnais, where she was part of a team that won nine trophies, including three consecutive Champions Leagues. And whilst Lucy still lets her football do the talking on the pitch, she has spoken openly about important subjects surrounding women’s football and continues to be for many the role model of the women’s game.

  1. Steph Houghton

Over the last seven years, Steph Houghton has become one of the most iconic figures in English football, as the captain of the Lionesses, leading the team to their best ever World Cup finish of third in 2015 and their first SheBelieves Cup success in 2019. Having risen through the ranks at Sunderland and Leeds United, it was with Arsenal that Steph made her WSL bow, winning seven trophies in four years, before moving to Manchester City in 2014, where her record has been equally impressive, scooping one WSL title, three WSL Cup victories and three FA Cup honours. Steph is a player largely without fanfare and has that defensive quality of old of getting the job done, but what a job she has done both for club and country, not least since her husband, former Liverpool defender, Stephen Darby’s diagnosis of motor neuron disease in 2018. Steph has been pivotal to the development of women’s football in England and has led by example throughout her impressive tenure.

  1. Jill Scott

There’s no missing Jill Scott on a football field, not because of her height, a handy 5 ft 11, but because she is literally everywhere on the pitch, and has been for so long now – fifteen years and counting for England – that it’s hard to remember a time or a team before Jill’s emergence. The archetypal box-to-box midfielder, Jill’s impressive decade in the WSL and nine trophies makes her one of the game’s most ever-present and decorated servants. Indeed, she holds the current record for most WSL appearances, whilst for England, she is one of only two players, along with Karen Carney, to have appeared at four World Cups, and second only in appearances to Fara Williams. Her longevity in the game means she has been at the heart of the changing face of women’s football in England and around the world and has witnessed first-hand the impact and success of the WSL, as well as England’s shifting fortunes. She has been there, done it and quite literally got the T-shirts – and in many cases the trophies too.

  1. Gilly Flaherty

Like Jill Scott, Gilly Flaherty has been in the WSL every step of the way – in fact, she was the scorer of the very first WSL goal, for Arsenal against Chelsea on 13 April 2011, and has equal most WSL winners’ medals. With a career that started with Millwall Lionesses, Gilly was part of the Arsenal team that dominated women’s football at the end of the 2000s, and swept the board in terms of titles in 2006/07. Success also followed at Chelsea, where she added two further WSL titles and two further FA Cups, before a move to West Ham in 2018, where she continues to lead with the captain’s armband. Although her England senior career never really took off, Flaherty has been at the top of the domestic game for some fifteen years, but it’s not just on the pitch that she has made her mark, speaking out in recent years about her struggles with mental health and supporting initiatives for positive action.

  1. Ji So-Yun

Some thirty nations have now been represented in the WSL, including Bulgaria, Nigeria and New Zealand, and the latest being Greece, but one of the earliest and longest-serving international arrivals was South Korea’s Ji So Yun, who made the move to Chelsea in 2014 from Japan, where she played for J League champions INAC Kobe. A trailblazer for South Korea and a lot of later international players, Ji settled quickly to the new league, scooping Players’ Player of the Year after her first season, and PFA Women’s Players’ Player of the Year, and has since gone on to win 10 titles with the Blues in her seven years at the club to date. On the international stage, Ji has some 125 appearances for South Korea and is the nation’s top scorer, as well as being the youngest goal-scorer for her country. She has been labelled as one of the best midfielders in the world and the best international player in the history of the WSL. And her journey from young footballer in Seoul to WSL champion in London is the stuff of dreams.

  1. Vivianne Miedema

Whilst Ji may be considered the best international player in the history of the WSL, one woman is certainly hot on her heels. Still only 24, Vivianne Miedema has set the WSL alight since arriving at the Gunners in 2017. In 2018/19, she scored a record 22 goals in a season, and is also the league’s top scorer with 60. She holds the record for the most consecutive seasons scoring at least 10 goals and at least 15 goals; the most goals in a calendar month; the most WSL hat-tricks, the most WSL hat-tricks in a season; the most goals in a game; the most goal involvements in a game and most assists in a game, and with an 18-goal haul in 20/21 there are no signs of these records lasting. Her record-breaking doesn’t stop on the domestic stage; she was the U19 UEFA Women’s championship top scorer in 2014 and twice UEFA Champions League top scorer and has the record goals at both U17 and senior level for the Netherlands. Aged just 21, she was part of Euro-winning Netherlands team, scoring two goals in the final to overcome Denmark. With a comic book series to her name, as well as featuring in Amy Raphael’s brilliant A Game of Two Halves, where Vivianne proved herself to be a powerful voice on the women’s game, Vivianne already has the book market conquered, but despite her tender age, hers is a story that will surely require more than one volume!

  1. Fran Kirby

Having recently scooped the FWA award for the second time, following her win in 2017/18, Fran Kirby has once again hit the headlines this season, in a Championship-winning year. Despite a humbling defeat to Barcelona in the Champions League Final, Fran and her Chelsea team have recorded a season to remember, losing only one game to see off a strong challenge from runners-up Man City. On a personal note, Fran finished the season with 16 goals to be the third top scorer in the league, and finished joint first for assists, including a notable quadruple against Reading and a brace plus four assists in the final match of the season. Although she initially burst onto the senior scene at the tender age of 16, well-noted struggles with depression following the devastating loss of her mother put her football career temporarily on pause, but Fran’s resilience and talent soon catapulted her to the top of the game, with wins in the 2015 FA Cup and WSL, as well as becoming a Lionesses regular. Another testing time came in 2019 when Fran suffered pericarditis which threatened to end her career, but once more she came back in impressive style and with great fortitude for someone who is still only 27. Fran’s story has been one of incredible challenges, but ultimately incredible success and is one that defines inspiration.