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Captain Houghton ready to lead youngsters as England invoke spirit of 2015

Captain Houghton ready to lead youngsters as England invoke spirit of 2015

08/06/2019 at 18:58Updated 08/06/2019 at 21:29

England captain Steph Houghton smiled wryly when she was asked about how she will pass on her words of wisdom to the "kids" in her squad prior to tomorrow's World Cup opener against Scotland in Nice.

"It's about us making sure that they enjoy it," said the 31-year-old in a pre-match press conference, adding that she shared that leadership responsibility with other senior players including Jill Scott and Karen Carney. "We have so many good youngsters coming through. It's amazing the talent that they have."

Asked about her thoughts on head coach Phil Neville, she glanced at him, asking, "We get on all right, don't we?"

"Do we?" smiled the manager, to a wave of laughter.

Houghton refused to criticise Neville's penchant for switching his starting eleven around; both captain and coach pointed out that previous manager Mark Sampson had done exactly the same thing during the 2015 tournament in Canada.

"It's given players with a little bit less experience more experience playing against the big teams," said Houghton. "Every team I've been part of, you need that squad of 23 players. You need players who are ready to come on...for me, we're happy, we're together, we're so excited for tomorrow, it's a massive game, and it's been a long time coming. We just can't wait to get going."

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Neville showed no sign of nerves on the eve of his first major tournament as a coach, joking that he has ice running through his veins in the heat of the French Riviera - although he did seem to be slightly riled by a French journalist asking about the English style of play, responding immediately that the Women's Super League was of a higher standard than the French domestic competition.

"We know and we like the pressure being on us," he said, adding that he hopes to invoke the spirit of the 2015 World Cup bronze medal-winning squad during this campaign.

Neville reported no new injury concerns, although a couple of knocks since the series of pre-tournament friendlies; although Demi Stokes and Toni Duggan had both been struggling during training this week, they were both expected to be fit for the match.

"The first game is always the most difficult," said Neville. "We're just looking to get off to a good start.

"We're not really thinking about the end process, which is hopefully being successful at this World Cup, we're actually focusing on tomorrow night's game."

As she checked out the pitch 24 hours before the match was scheduled to kick off, Scotland coach Shelley Kerr - newly created MBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours - found herself wishing she was going to pull her boots on tomorrow.

: Nikita Parris of England celebrates with teammates after scoring her team's first goal during the International Friendly between England Women and Denmark Women at Bank's Stadium on May 25, 2019 in Walsall, England

: Nikita Parris of England celebrates with teammates after scoring her team's first goal during the International Friendly between England Women and Denmark Women at Bank's Stadium on May 25, 2019 in Walsall, EnglandGetty Images

"That's the time I miss being a player," she admitted in her pre-match press conference.

"I'm visualising the noisy support tomorrow and us kicking off our first game in a World Cup. That moment, I can visualise, and I can't wait till tomorrow."

Kerr described her squad's achievements so far as "fantastic", and praised the strengths of their opponents.

"We're playing against a formidable England team," she said. "It's going to be a tough task for us but it's one we're really looking forward to."

Casual observers need not think Scotland are there to make the numbers up - their target is to get into the knock-out stages of the tournament.

"Of course we're hoping to win the game," Kerr added. "Any footballer and any coach, you go into any game hoping to win it."

Captain Rachel Corsie dismissed any idea that Scotland were out for revenge or had any extra motivation to perform well on Sunday following their 6-0 drubbing at the hands of the same opponents at the 2017 European Championships.

"Everyone in the squad feels a huge privilege to wear that jersey," she said. "It means a huge amount to be here."

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