- Steph Houghton speaks exclusively with FIFA.com
- The England captain talks about the Lionesses’ hopes for France 2019
- She gives insight into some of their main rivals
When sitting down to talk with Steph Houghton, she exudes a natural calm and focus – qualities notable on the pitch when she is captaining both Manchester City and England. Off the pitch, the respect of her club and international team-mates has clearly been earned by the born leader, who has won countless titles and led England to the latter stages of elite international tournaments.
With the Draw for the forthcoming FIFA Women’s World Cup™ pitching the Lionesses against auld rivals Scotland, 2011 champions Japan and underdogs Argentina, Houghton’s mind is now focused on France 2019. FIFA.com chatted with the 31-year-old about her Women’s World Cup experiences to date, her hopes for this year’s tournament, and the expectation that she hopes will push Phil Neville’s side to a new level.
FIFA.com: What did you make of the draw, and where were you watching?
Steph Houghton: I was watching it on TV and had my cousin on FaceTime, with her baby. They’re wanting to come out to France, so as soon as we knew what group we were going to be in they were trying to plan to see if they could go. Then a few texts came flying in…
We can imagine there were quite a few messages from your Manchester City team-mates! You’ll most likely come head-to-head with Caroline Weir during the Scotland game – can you describe her strengths?
[The 2018/19 campaign] has been Caz’s first season at Man City and she’s been unbelievable for us. She’s added a little bit of a different dimension to our game. She’s a very technical player and has a wand of a left foot. Obviously we know her strengths from playing against her every single day in training, but it’s about stopping them and I think she’ll try to create chances for Scotland. She can deliver an unbelievable set-piece but can also get a goal or two as well. For us, we just have to make sure we keep an eye on her.
How far will England go at France 2019?
Hopefully all the way. Obviously that’s the aim. We’ve been a part of a lot of tournaments over the past few years, we’ve reached two semi-finals in the EUROs and one at the 2015 World Cup. We came away with a bronze medal at the World Cup and, for us, we want to go that one step further and get into the Final.
Do you think the build-up to this tournament is different to Canada 2015, in terms of confidence in the England camp, and in terms of the wider public and media interest?
I think in terms of interest, yeah, massively. Obviously everybody knew we were playing in a World Cup in 2015, it was talked about, but not of a massive interest. With winning the bronze medal in 2015, getting to a semi-final [at the UEFA Women’s EURO] in 2017, recently winning the SheBelieves … there’s a bigger expectation on this England team to go and perform in major tournaments.
We’ve got to go and try to enjoy that expectation, that pressure. We’ve got ourselves in a great position where we’re fit, we like to play football, we’re getting better with each game that we’re playing under the new manager, and we’re enjoying the challenge every single day to try and hopefully bring England back a World Cup.
It’s not an easy one to revisit, but can you describe that feeling when you knew the ball had crossed the line in stoppage time against Japan in the 2015 semi-final?
I was just empty, I think. We’d worked so hard to get to our first semi-final in a World Cup. We’d played really well in that game, that was probably our best performance. You’re thinking, ‘Right, OK, if we can just get to the final whistle and to extra time, I think we’ve got them’. When you see that ball go in, you just think ‘oh no’. We didn’t have enough time to try and get it back.
It wasn’t a very nice experience, especially for Bass [Laura Bassett, who scored the own goal], who was unbelievable that tournament. She was a real leader then. But we win and lose together. It was obviously devastating, but I think it fuelled us for the bronze-medal match and that was the right way to use those emotions – to try and use it as an incentive to go and win a bronze medal and beat Germany for the first time.
It was a bit of a nightmare. It is what it is and we’re a stronger group because of it.
Houghton on #FIFAWWC rivals
We’d got them first game at the EUROs in 2017 – you’re thinking, ‘Oh, not again!’ – but we’re excited. It’s going to be a massive game for both countries and it’ll be a good one.
They’ve got some experienced players. They’ve got players at Lyon, [Saki] Kumagai, who’s been unbelievable for them for a lot of years and their main player.
Ultimately, getting a draw against USA [at SheBelieves], we were disappointed with that. We had chances to go and win the game and we’ve shown that we can compete against the best teams in the world.
Phil Neville named you as one of the group of “unbelievable senior players who help bridge the gap” between youth and experience, who’ve been to a Women’s World Cup before. What experiences will you use to guide those players who’ve not been to a senior global finals?
I think it’s important that we keep the group at a level where when we do win, we don’t get too high in emotion, and if we lose it’s not about feeling sorry for ourselves.
We’re a team that are together, a team that are aggressive, we like to play football and we need to make sure that we keep going back to that. Ultimately, we need to enjoy it as well. You get the best out of the girls when they’re enjoying themselves, when they’ve got a smile on their face – they’re working hard on the training pitch but they’re allowed to relax off it as well.
I think also, not to listen to too many people. With the likes of social media and outside influences – we’re going to be on telly a lot more – I think it’s important that you listen to the right people, whether it’s your team-mates, your parents or your coaches, and don’t take too much to heart.