Women’s football stands at a “tipping point” as England head into the 2019 World Cup, according to former Lionesses’ captain Casey Stoney.
Phil Neville’s squad coasted through their qualification group for next summer’s finals in France, winning seven out of eight matches and conceding just once.
England have been drawn against World Cup debutants Scotland, Japan and Argentina as they look to improve on reaching the semi-finals four years ago in Canada.
Stoney, who won some 130 international caps and is now head coach of Manchester United Women, believes should the Lionesses get things right next summer, then the women’s game would be lifted to a whole new level.
“The women’s game is on a bit of a tipping point at the moment and if they could go and win a world cup it might tip it where we want it to go,” Stoney told Press Association Sport.
“It will be Phil’s first tournament in charge and he has some fantastic players in the squad who have been to a couple of World Cups and a Euro Championship now, so they have got experience, and they will be in a good place.
“The loss to Sweden recently, though, will do England a real good favour in the long run, knowing they still have to go and do some work before they get out at the World Cup.”
Former defender Stoney, who played for Arsenal, Charlton, Chelsea, Lincoln, and Liverpool, added: “The fact the FA Women’s Super League is strong now and all of the teams are professional can only help Phil going into the World Cup.
“The key is keeping all of the players fit and being able to have everybody available.”
England’s clash with Scotland will be the first World Cup match for both teams in Nice on June 9.
Scotland were also in the same group as England at Euro 2017 in Holland, but were soundly beaten 6-0.
Stoney, though, does not believe there will be any sense of complacency from Neville’s squad, which will be missing Arsenal midfielder Jordan Nobbs following surgery on her anterior cruciate ligament injury.
“Scotland will be a tough game. I know in the Euros, England won 6-0, but Scotland were missing some key players in that game and I think it will be a really interesting fixture and one you probably wouldn’t want in your opening game,” said Stoney, part of the England squad which reached the semi-finals of the 2015 World Cup and also spent time working alongside Neville after her retirement.
“(Head coach) Shelley (Kerr) has done a magnificent job with Scotland, they only got beat 1-0 by USA and gave them a good game.
“But what an exciting World Cup it’s going to be and the fact it’s in a timezone where everyone can watch it and (with) Phil leading the team.”
Stoney, 36, helped with a coaching session at Meninas Football Club in Hertfordshire, which was founded early in 2018 and now has some 85 girls playing across seven teams in five age groups.
There are now some 18 coaches, all volunteers, with McDonald’s grassroots programme helping provide funding for seven of the group to go through their badges.
Stoney believes investing in people as well as facilities can only continue to engage the next generation.
“If you can improve the coaches, you improve the players and their experiences. If you improve their experience, the more likely they are to stay in the game,” she said.
“The fact it is a girls-only environment where they can come and not feel intimidated is really important.”
:: McDonald’s grassroots football ambassador Casey Stoney was speaking during a visit to Meninas FC in Hertfordshire to help encourage more girls to participate in football. To find out more about the McDonald’s Grassroots programme visit: www.mcdonalds.co.uk/grassroots