Beth Mead pointed to early World Cup exits for Germany and Brazil as a reminder that results trump performances after England scrapped their way to Wednesday’s semi-final meeting with Australia.
The Lionesses were far from their best in the group stage but emerged with three wins, a pattern that has continued into the knockout rounds as they narrowly edged past Nigeria and Colombia despite starting as heavy favourites to set up the meeting with the co-hosts in Sydney.
Much-fancied Germany, who Sarina Wiegman’s side beat in the European Championship final at Wembley a year ago, were surprisingly dumped out of the tournament at the first hurdle after losing to Colombia and failing to beat South Korea.
Here's everything you need to know ahead of our #FIFAWWC semi-final! 🇦🇺🏴
— Lionesses (@Lionesses) August 15, 2023
South American champions Brazil went out at the same stage after they were held to a surprise goalless draw by Jamaica, making only their second World Cup appearance, in their final game.
And Mead called for England’s critics to put the team’s own performances, which have failed to convince at times despite seeing the side progress to a third straight semi-final, in the context of illustrious rivals who failed to overcome the emerging nations of women’s football.
“You’re never going to play a perfect game every game,” she told the PA news agency whilst attending a McDonald’s Fun Football session ahead of the semi-final. McDonald’s has given 50,000 children access to free football throughout the summer.
“In the Euros, we grew into the tournament and I think it’s the same at the moment.
“We didn’t play our best game in the first two matches and still came away with two victories, in comparison to Germany or Brazil who got knocked out in the group stage. You don’t need to be firing on all cylinders if you’re winning games and getting momentum.
“But fans have an expectation of us to be playing 10 out of 10 every time we get on the football pitch. Unfortunately that’s not football. The opposition make it hard for you.
“But the girls are in a good place. We’ve made it to a semi-final and haven’t actually played our best football. It’s exciting to know they can still get to another level against Australia.”
Mead, who won the Golden Boot as the Lionesses were victorious at Euro 2022 but was ruled out of the World Cup with an ACL injury, pointed to defender Alex Greenwood as England’s standout performer at the tournament so far.
The Manchester City player has made the most interceptions of any player involved across all teams competing in Australia and New Zealand as well as the most touches and the highest number of passes.
Against Australia she is set to start in a back three alongside Chelsea pair Jess Carter and captain Millie Bright, and Mead is hopeful that the club connection will help give them the edge over fellow Blue Sam Kerr.
Australia’s all-time top scorer made her first appearance of the tournament as a late substitute during the last-16 win against Denmark after missing the group stage with a calf injury, coming off the bench once more against France, and coach Tony Gustavasson has hinted she may be used as an impact substitute against the Lionesses.
“Whether Sam Kerr is fully fit or not, she only needs one chance to score a goal,” said Mead. “The England players know that, Millie Bright plays with her every week at Chelsea and knows the ability that she has.
“She’s a player that can stay concentrated and in the game for 90 minutes, we’ve learned that the hard way over the years.
“They’ll have her locked in their sights for the full game. We need to keep her under wraps, we can’t give her a sniff on goal.
“But Alex Greenwood has made more interceptions than any other player at the tournament. She’s got a wand of a left foot and is under-rated in this team.”
Of the continued growth and popularity of the women’s game in England she added: “You can see that by the fact that McDonalds Fun Football sessions are oversubscribed by 160 per cent, it’s great to see first-hand how the next generation have been galvanised by the team.”