England boss Phil Neville hopes this week’s team-building experience with the Royal Marines has left his players better equipped for the potential challenges ahead at the Women’s World Cup.
The Lionesses were with the Marines at St George’s Park from Wednesday lunchtime to Thursday morning as preparations continued for the tournament in France that gets under way in two weeks.
The players, who had not known the event was going to take place, took part in various military-style exercises, constructed tarpaulin shelters to sleep in, cooked food on campfires and spoke to the Marines, some of whom were amputees, about their experiences.
Neville, whose side face Denmark in Walsall on Saturday in their penultimate World Cup warm-up match, said: “When you’re going away to a World Cup there’s going to be massive ups and downs – emotional, homesickness, missing family, you’re playing, you’re not playing, you’re playing well, you make mistakes, tears, whatever.
“And you need to know that the people next to you, you can trust. You need to know the person next to you is a sister, or a brother, or a staff member that’s going to help you out.
“What we spoke about was that there will be times when we are all feeling sorry for ourselves over the next 40 days, tired or whatever.
“But when you listen to some of the stories from some of the soldiers, that lost their legs, lost their arms, no hamstrings, back’s gone, then we can’t moan about a blister. We can’t moan about being in a five-star hotel in Le Havre, Nice, wherever we are.
“It (the time with the Marines) was about stripping everything back, turning your iPads off and actually sitting around a place or doing tasks together to actually find out more deeper meaning and connection to your friend next to you.
“I actually think we have a special bond, between me, my staff and my players, but I wanted to take that a step further, and that was like the icing on the cake for me. It was the last bit that we wanted to do.
“It was just an experience we’d never had, and to shock them into doing that and seeing how they handled it was for me sensational.”
Denmark, runners-up at Euro 2017, failed to qualify for this World Cup. They are captained by Wolfsburg forward Pernille Harder, who was second in last year’s inaugural Women’s Ballon d’Or.
Neville said of the contest at the Banks’s Stadium: “We wanted a big test and I think when we spoke to Denmark about arranging this game, the one thing we did probably stipulate is that we wanted their best players to come.
Final preparation complete over here on camp 🙅
Walsall, you ready? pic.twitter.com/ML4hb6V2H0
— Lionesses (@Lionesses) May 24, 2019
“They’re not going to a major championship – they could have brought an experimental team.
“But you want your best players to come, they have brought theirs and this game could be harder than some of the group-stage games we have. Denmark are better than some of the teams in the World Cup.”
England are in World Cup Group D alongside Scotland, Japan and Argentina. Their final warm-up game is against New Zealand in Brighton on June 1, and they then open their campaign by facing Scotland eight days later in Nice.
— FIFA Women’s World Cup 🇫🇷 (@FIFAWWC) May 24, 2019
Neville also revealed Lucy Bronze and Toni Duggan, who played for Lyon and Barcelona respectively in last weekend’s Women’s Champions League final, would be rested on Saturday, and said he would continue at the World Cup to use right-back Bronze in midfield at times, as he has of late.
He said: “Lucy will play in midfield in the tournament, and she’ll play at right-back. That’s something I’m passionate about, something I believe in, but more importantly it’s something Lucy believes in as well.”