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Amie Belshaw: A Woman on a Mission

The 2019 Women's World Cup sees England reign supreme as Amie leads the Lionesses to their maiden title. Now she has captured attention in the men's game and has been hired by French side US Boulogne. Will Amie have what it takes to succeed?
Started on 13 January 2020 by ScottT
Latest Reply on 29 April 2020 by Justice
ScottT's avatar Group ScottT
4 yearsEdited

There were far too many aspects to our game which paled in comparison to the expectations I have come to expect of my players during our defeat to New Zealand. A lack of conviction was on display from the first whistle to the very last. It simply wasn’t good enough against a side who we should have imposed ourselves on more than we did, with all due respect. There were concerns to be had heading into our opener against Scotland, but I was pleased with the reaction from the players during training in the days leading up to our opener against our Auld rivals. Their character was under severe scrutiny from this point onwards. They understood that similar performances at the World Cup would only result in an early exit, in which wouldn’t comply with the aims we set as a collective group for the tournament. Results are absolutely paramount in this business; we could only obtain them with much-improved performances.

On paper, Group D was penned as the toughest group from the six drawn and despite being drawn as the strongest seed of the group, our progression was far from guaranteed given the quality of opposition drawn alongside us. Our biggest threat, arguably, was Japan. Under the guidance of head-coach Norio Sasaki, the Japanese had enjoyed a golden era of success in the previous two tournaments having won the competition in 2011, beating the United States on penalties, before losing out to Jill Ellis’s side in Canada. The retirement of Sasaki following their loss to the US in 2016 had brought uncertainty for the future, though.

Asako Takakura was tasked with guiding her country to further glory on the grandest stage, with her managerial expertise largely unknown despite having coached both the U17’s and U20’s prior to undertaking her current vacancy. They came into France as an unknown quantity which is a dangerous quality to have, especially with the artillery they have at their disposal who had plenty of experience of major tournaments, as the squad was largely comprised of veterans rather than fresh, young talent.

Scotland, meanwhile, were set to make their maiden appearance at a World Cup under the guidance of Shelley Kerr. Similarly to the Japanese, they approached the tournament as a relative unknown having made few waves on the international stage. Kerr’s appointment had coincided with a magnificent improvement in form to which caught the attention of the world’s elite, as well as their own nation’s. The Scottish government celebrated their qualification by granting further investment into the side ahead of their trip to France.

Pressure certainly wasn’t to be a factor for the Scots, they approached the tournament with great momentum but very little expectation given the sudden meteoric rise they had enjoyed, which made them a very dangerous threat we had to be cautious of in our opening game. We couldn’t have asked for a much more challenging opener than adding another chapter to the Auld rivalry.

Finally, the group was completed with Argentina, who were making their third appearance at a World Cup following their omission from the finals in both Germany and Canada. Expected to be cannon-fodder for the likes of ourselves and Japan given their far from impressive records in previous tournaments, Argentina, similarly to Scotland, approached France with absolutely no expectations but to a far greater extent than Kerr’s side. Results had improved en route to qualifying for the tournament though, so La Albiceleste went into France with more confidence than they perhaps would have during their campaigns in the US and China, respectively.

An effective response was paramount against Scotland. We were all too aware of the threat they carried ahead of the game and both myself and Shelley Kerr shared a mutual appreciation for each other's work. There were few surprises in the line-up given the poor performance in the previous game. Karen Bardsley started in goal, with Lucy Bronze, captain Steph Houghton, Millie Bright and Alex Greenwood ahead of her. I opted to change the shape ahead of the game to a 4-5-1 to counter-act the attacking quality Scotland brought with them, as Keira Walsh sat deeper in a midfield three alongside Jill Scott and Fran Kirby to bring further solidity to the back-four. Nikita Parris and Beth Mead brought the attacking width, whilst Ellen White began the game up-front.

There were to be no surprises from my point of view from Scotland, as they lined up in a 4-2-3-1 with Arsenal captain Kim Little playing as a number ten behind Erin Cuthbert.

After years of hard-work, I was finally given the opportunity to lead my players out onto the turf of the Allianz Riviera in Nice at a World Cup. An honour in which I never truly believed was possible.

The tone of the game was set from the very opening exchanges of the game. Both sides weren't hanging about and set-out to attack their opponents, with Scotland keen to cause an upset in their debut match at a World Cup finals. Approximately twelve minutes into the game, we attacked down the right with Fran Kirby. As she sought to swing the ball dangerously into the path of Ellen White in the middle, an arm was raised and the ball clattered off the Scotland defender, prompting the referee to pause the game and race over to the monitor pitch side. VAR was in action, just as it had been for the opening two days of the tournament.

After a couple of minutes of careful observation, referee Jana Adámková adjudged Nicola Docherty to have raised her arm into an unnatural position to prevent the cross and therefore gave Nikita Parris the opportunity to strike from twelve yards. She made no mistake, blasting the ball powerfully to the left-corner, sending the players into a frenzy as they sprinted over to celebrate with me. I couldn't remain calm; I was ecstatic. It was the perfect start to a difficult encounter.

We continued to attack and were denied excellently by Lee Alexander on several occasions in the first-half, up until a miscued clearance from the Scotland defence eventually found its way to Ellen White who stroked the ball beautifully into the goal, giving us a two-nil advantage heading into the break.

In the second-half, we were less interested in attacking and this reflected in the volume of chances created in the final forty-five. Scotland were fairly limited as a result of our more conservative nature, as Georgia Stanway, Abbie Greenwood and Karen Carney all came on to preserve our cushion. Unfortunately, Scotland did pull one back eleven minutes from time after a strong run from Little presented her with the opportunity to slide in Claire Emslie who finished expertly. However, we did enough to hold on and take all three points in our opening game of the tournament - I couldn't have been happier, in spite of the imperfections to our game in which I addressed with the players during training in the days following.

Just five days on, we looked to add to our tally and confirm our qualification into the last sixteen. An Argentinian side who had been completely written off heading into the tournament had held Japan in their opening game to a stalemate, thanks in large to the heroics of Vanina Correa. She would once again display her quality in the tournament with an excellent performance against us during a dominant display in which limited our opponents to just two shots over the entirety of the game.

For the game, I elected to make a number of changes beginning with Carly Telford coming in to replace Karen. Abbie McManus replaced Millie Bright in an otherwise unchanged back-four, while Jade Moore and Jodie Taylor replaced Kiera Walsh and Ellen White. My decision was based off of nothing more than simply wanting to test more of my players against an opponent I believe we could still overcome in spite of rotating more than perhaps expected.

A clumsy challenge inside the area presented Nikita with another opportunity from the spot around the half-hour mark, however she was denied brilliantly by Correa who managed to dive to her right and tip the ball onto her post before the ball was cleared behind for a corner. She was called into action once again just before half-time, as Beth this time was denied by the legs of the 35-year-old shot-stopper.

Further efforts were made to break the deadlock, but Correa seemed to have a response for every single attempt on goal until a low-cross had her beaten as Jodie Taylor ran into the box to finish. That would be the difference between the two sides as we went into our final group game knowing our position in the last sixteen of the competition was secured.

Japan would be our final opponents in Group D and with our place secured, it gave us the opportunity to make further changes to the startling lineup. Karen Bardsley was restored to the side, as were Millie Bright, Keira Walsh and Ellen White. Demi Stokes was given her first chance to impress ahead of Alex Greenwood, while Georgia Stanway, Toni Duggan and Rachel Daly were also given their first starts in the competition.

Japan had also booked their place in the last sixteen having beaten Scotland 2-1 in their second group game leaving them on four points. Meanwhile, Scotland and Argentina were left vying for third-place in the group in their final clash with qualification still available via the third-placed ranking spots.

Previous head-to-head meetings against Japan had always resulted in difficult games, however we were largely in control against our opponents as we returned to Nice once again. We weathered the storm early on from Japan before really asserting ourselves into the game, with Karen Bardsley denying Kumi Yokoyama from a well-struck free-kick, before Ellen White added to her tally with a slick finish no less than fourteen minutes into the game.

A flurry of chances throughout the game for the likes of Toni Duggan and Georgia Stanway were well-saved by Ayaka Yamashita in the Japanese goal, as we controlled the tempo brilliantly and looked to be our very best for, arguably, the first time in the tournament. Ellen White would double her tally for the game with another excellent finish inside the box as we concluded the group with maximum points to our name.

Japan finished behind us in second, while Argentina played-out a thrilling 3-3 draw against Scotland. A ninety-fourth minute equaliser from Florencia Bonsegundo broke Scottish hearts to prevent them from finishing third in the group and gaining qualification into the last sixteen. Argentina failed to do enough to obtain a spot in the last sixteen, finishing bottom with two points to their name within the third-placed teams.

Our efforts saw us draw Cameroon in the next round, as the Indomitable Lionesses earned their place through finishing third in Group E behind the Netherlands and Canada, with a ninety-fifth minute winner from striker Ajara Nchout sealing a 2-1 victory over New Zealand to narrowly secure their place in the last sixteen. Despite a below-par tournament so far, Cameroon possessed an abundance of pace in which we had to be cautious in dealing with.

That aside, we were pleased with our own progress. We overcame our concerns heading into the tournament excellently and displayed great confidence throughout our group campaign. The fashion in which we won our group sent out a statement of intent: we weren't here to mess about.

ichano186: Much appreciated, I hope you continue to enjoy reading.
Griffo: You'll have to find out!
Syb: Leave the puns to Justice... in fact, don't.
Seb: It was an incredibly poor result, but with hindsight it could be argued it restored England's focus and enabled them to enjoy a fantastic group campaign.
MJK: That would be very left-field. Similarly to Griffo, continuing reading to find out!
Jack: Genuinely, who cares about Phil Neville?
Justice: ...or maybe not. ;)
Jim: Well, the group stages were an absolute doddle. Hopefully she and the squad can successfully navigate themselves past Cameroon next.
Amie showing great leadership to turn the misfiring Lionesses before the tournament into the group toppers that they deservedly proved to be. Interesting to see how she lines up against the speed of the Cameroonian players.
From producing one of the greatest pieces of music in a KFC to playing at a World Cup...Millie B, what a legend!
That aside, the results in the group stages have been much improved compared to the New Zealand result that must of left Amie, slightly panicked before the Scotland game. Hopefully we see the same form going into the Cameroon game!
ScottT's avatar Group ScottT
4 yearsEdited

After securing our progression into the last sixteen, our attentions swiftly turned to the next game at hand against Cameroon in the last sixteen. Preparations began through studying an in-depth analysis of Cameroon's group games at the tournament, as this was the most effective method at beginning to gain an impression of our opposition. An impression with difficult to gauge in some respects as Cameroon were a largely unsettled team in the three group games, consistently switching their systems and approach to each game. In their opening game against Canada, they were far more conservative and deployed a 5-3-2, whereas, for example, in their final match against New Zealand they were far more keen to attack and played a 4-3-3 system to reflect this.

Conversely, aspects to the Cameroonian's play were largely unaltered from game-to-game and we had a general understanding as to what to expect from our opponents. Throughout the entirety of the team, they understood they often held an advantage physically and based their approach-play on this fact.

Alain Djeumfa, the Cameroon head-coach, sought to play direct football in which looked to actively engage his players physically with balls often played into pockets of space for attackers to run onto and ask questions of the opposition's defence. This would often result in Cameroon either winning possession further up the pitch in the form of a throw-in or corner or beating the opposition defender in a foot-race to get to the ball. It was evident they understood they wouldn't be able to compete with the world's elite by simply trying to out-do them on the ball, reflected in the amount of possession they had against the Netherlands, 38% in comparison to the Netherlands 62%.

Our progression into the last sixteen was far more simple than our opponents. Whereas we took maximum points en route to qualifying, conceding just once, Cameroon took just three points after narrowly beating New Zealand in stoppage-time. They lost 1-0 and 3-1 in losses against both Canada and the Netherlands, respectively, beforehand. This was a game we came into as massive favourites and rightfully so.

The focus remained entirely on the task ahead, however it was virtually impossible not to keep at least one eye on the Australia-Norway clash on the eve of the game. Whoever came out on top in that would face the winner of our clash. After going the very distance, Australia were dumped out 4-1 on penalties by a Norway side who remained without Ballon D'or winner Ada Hegerberg. She had been absent since 2017, following a decision to go "on strike" as a form of protest due to a dispute from the NFF about how they treat women's football, describing her time with the national team as "deeply depressing." Advancements had been made within Norway, but Ada remained defiant saying that there was "still a long way to go." All power to her.

Irrespective of her absence, Norway had been impressive in France. They finished second in Group A behind the hosts, defeating both Nigeria and South Korea either-side of a narrow loss to Corinne Diacre's team and Martin Sjögren, who has been in-charge since 2016, had his squad playing some exciting, fluid football.

It was finally our turn to step-out onto the pitch for our last sixteen tie in Valenciennes. We stuck with the 4-1-4-1 system that we had been using throughout our group stage campaign, with Karen Bardsley in-goal. The back-four had become well-established at this point and we were pleased to have all four members available for selection. Captain Steph Houghton was accompanied by her defensive partner Millie Bright, as Lucy Bronze and Alex Greenwood played either side of the pair.

Kiera Walsh retained her role in the side, as Fran Kirby and Jill Scott sat just in-front of her. Nikita Parris and Toni Duggan took the wide-roles in midfield with Ellen White starting up-front as she sought to add to her brace against Japan and take her overall tally to four for the tournament.

Despite the most thorough analysis of our opposition, nothing could have prepared us for what we were about to face.

With the upmost confidence heading into the game, the players knew what was expected of them and immediately set-out to find a quick goal to unsettle our opposition who had surprisingly elected to play a more attacking-style than we anticipated, playing a 4-2-3-1. Our mission was complete within the opening twelve minutes when Ellen White's low cross was knocked into the hands of the Cameroon goalkeeper by one of her own players, enabling referee Qin Liang to decide it was a purposeful back-pass. What followed was only a taste of things to come.

I was horrified by what unfolded. The Cameroon players, understandably, were frustrated by the ruling from the official and surrounded her in an attempt to force her to overturn her decision. This wasn't achieved. Instead, Toni was subject to an appalling act, as Augustine Ejangue spat towards her. Being the professional she is, Toni turned her attention away from the act relatively quickly after her initial disgust with raised, but this only added to the earlier incident in which saw Yvonne Leuko booked for an elbow on Nikita. The underlying tone of the game was being set and it was ugly.

Merely a few yards from goal, our captain Steph Houghton was able to steer the ball pass the endless Cameroonian bodies on the line to present us with an early lead.

The game continued in a physical manner. We would double our lead just before the break when Lucy Bronze slipped in Ellen White to finish from close-range. The goal was adjudged to have been offside, but upon further investigation from a VAR check, the goal stood as White was deemed onside. However, Cameroon were incensed once again resulting in a long delay to kick-off. This was followed by angry protest at the half-time whistle and tears in the tunnel.

Truthfully, I couldn't believe what we were witnessing. It was something I had yet to witness during both my playing-career and managerial career. It was obvious; Cameroon were trying to unsettle us with unsportsmanlike conduct. In the dressing-room, a discussion went on between myself and the players to remain composed and to not be drawn into the game Cameroon wanted us to play. A side ranked forty-four places below us in the world rankings knew they didn't have the quality to match us. They were going to extreme lengths to try to beat us mentally to get back into a game they knew they were due to lose.

With the second-half underway, tensions were still clearly running high. They would only increase when Cameroon were denied a route back into the game in the early exchanges when Nchout's powerful strike was ruled out by VAR. The cross delivered by Gabrielle Onguene was subject to the ruling, as her back-leg was millimetres offside. A chaotic scene of boos rang around the Stade du Hainaut from the Cameroonian supporters and numerous personnel from the substitutes bench raced over to confront officials, however we remained unbothered and kept our heads firmly in the game only. It was a testament to our character.

The referee was also involved in more than one sense when she was pushed by Jeannette Yango, which somehow went unpunished. I was unsure as to whether she was unaware at the seemingly deliberate manoeuvre or whether she simply couldn't be bothered by the antics of the Cameroon players at this point. I could sympathise with her, but there was no hiding that her inability to deal with Cameroon's protests lead to ordeals becoming far worse than they needed to.

The finishing touches to the game were made in the fifty-eighth minute when Alex Greenwood hit the ball sweetly through a crowd of players on the edge of the area from a low-driven corner. Cameroon were utterly dejected and realised they were heading out, seemingly proceeding to neglect the game and instead turn their attention to deliberately causing injury to our players, as Alexandra Takounda concluded the game with a dangerous challenge on Steph right beside the dugouts.

Through remonstrating with the referee, Takounda escaped with just a yellow-card but I was keen to share my fury with the Cameroonian head-coach following the challenge. "This has been a disgrace," I muttered towards him. He turned a blind-eye and wouldn't divert his attention away from the pitch again until it came to shaking my hand very loosely with a steely gaze in his eyes come the full-time whistle. A total lack of class ran throughout the team, clearly. However, we were safely through with a comfortable 3-0 victory and would face Norway in the quarter-finals.

Discussions after the match were kept brief with the media to avoid any further incidents. I didn't want to incriminate myself, after all. I was pleased to hear FIFA were keen on investigating the behaviour of our opponents just a few days later, as I feared their actions would avoid the scrutiny of the higher-powers. Regardless, our attentions now had to turn to Norway and the challenge they were set to bring. Following that performance though under the circumstances, my confidence in the squad was only growing further and further. This was truly ours to lose, I thought.

Jack: It was a difficult group, but Amie and the squad worked hard to ensure they played to the standard expected of them. Cameroon was another difficult test for the reasons provided, but to achieve such a result in the circumstances shows the brilliance of the players Amie has at her disposal.
Seb: There is no stopping Millie B!
Disgusting behavior by the Cameroonians, thankfully Amie was able to lead the Lionesses to the next round.
Horrific from them with what seems to be very little interest in actually playing football. Although you escaped without any clear and serious injury, I do wonder if some of the physicality will damage the teams future performances in the tournament, I hope not.
Good luck Scott.
Very well-written update Scott! That win surely means a lot to the team after how your opponents behaved. Good luck against Norway, I know you'll beat them!
This England side is showing resilience beyond belief. They cruised through the group stages and now faced a test of physicality and once again breezed past despite the awful display put on by Cameroon. It'll take a lot to stop Belshaw's girls.
good luck bro
ScottT's avatar Group ScottT
4 yearsEdited

“Good morning.” Amie announced to the crowd of reporters who had congregated to her impromptu press-conference. “I apologise for the suddenness of this call, but I would like to urgently discuss an important matter with you.” The mood within the room abruptly filled with uncertainty at what the Lionesses head-coach was about to reveal.

The previous day, England had comfortably seen-off their Norwegian opponents in Le Havre to reach the semi-finals of the World Cup. Lucy Bronze was the star of the show, completing her performance with a sweet-strike from the edge of the area that epitomised why she is viewed as the greatest defender in the women’s game today. A 3-0 victory meant England would do battle with the current holders of the World Cup, the United States, after they had narrowly beaten the hosts France, 2-1, thanks to a brace from Megan Rapinoe that brought her tally for the tournament to five.

A battle between England and the US promised fireworks. The Lionesses asserted complete dominance over Norway during their victory, arguably playing the best football we had seen from them over the tournament to this point. It was a telling result for Amie Belshaw’s side who were continuing to improve game-by-game and were increasingly showcasing the ability to which she has emphasised across her spell in charge of the team.

The US, meanwhile, were embroiled in a battle with the French. Despite holding a comfortable advantage heading into the final ten minutes, Wendi Renard was able to restore French hopes through a powerful header that resulted in a shaky final few moments for Jill Ellis’s side. It was evident that the Americans weren’t comfortable with the pressure being imposed by their opponents and were rather fortunate to hold on to avoid surrendering their lead and being forced into extra-time. There was a sense of vulnerability shown in their performance that would give the Lionesses reasons for optimism heading into their semi-final clash.

Belshaw was the latest manager to guide the Lionesses into the final four, but was hoping to become the first manager to take the side beyond the semi-finals following Mark Sampson’s failure to do so in the previous tournament. A 2-1 loss to Japan in Edmonton resulted in a heart-breaking elimination.

“I am absolutely delighted to wake-up this morning and say that we are in the semi-finals of the World Cup. When I took this job, I always set-out with the goal of improving the quality within the England ranks and taking on the very best, looking to obtain a maiden World Cup title. I am immensely proud to say we have a tremendous opportunity to achieve this if we play like we did against Norway, but I believe that we can still improve and we will have to in order to beat the United States. It doesn’t take me to remind you of their quality and I have a massive amount of respect for the work conducted by Jill [Ellis] and her players.

We are working incredibly hard to prepare ourselves readily for the challenge of a lifetime. Each game in this tournament presents a more diverse challenge in which we have to contend with. The US have great experience at this stage of the competition and possess a wealth of quality; but we know we can match them and we’ll prove that. There would be no point in me being in this position for as long as I have if I didn’t have the confidence that my players can deliver on the biggest of stages. This can truly be the making of us.”

Amie glanced around the room as silence immediately engulfed it. It was apparent Amie was carefully measuring the words she was about to deliver. She played with the tips of her long, brown hair for a short-while before laughing, “sorry, I’m just trying to think of how to deliver this news. It’s a lot for me to comprehend.” A further short silence followed before she delivered a sudden “so," indicating she was ready to continue her speech.

“This role has presented me with a wealth of opportunities that I didn’t believe were possible. I have met some incredible people and worked with some incredible players. I have made friendships to last a lifetime and gained a respect from managerial peers to which I deeply appreciate. My time has been met with a lot of positives, but there have been occasional bumps in the road along the way, which you always have to expect as a manager. Nothing is ever perfect.

There will truly be no greater honour than that I have been given by the FA, to manage this country’s women’s side and lead us into a World Cup alongside a group of players who deserve to be champions so far. We must go into the game against the United States with the same level of confidence we did against Norway and maintain the attitude that we can beat anyone. We are committed to the cause.

With that said…” Amie paused. “I would like to announce that following the conclusion of the tournament, irrespective of what happens between now and the conclusion of the final, I will be vacating my role as head-coach of the England women’s national side. It is a decision I have not taken lightly, but a decision made after careful consideration towards the future of both myself and the team.”

The announcement was met with a chorus of disbelief shared amongst the reporters in the room as the cameras began to flash more violently than before and the scribbling of pens to paper could be heard throughout.

“I won’t go into further detail until the tournament is concluded, but my attention is firmly on the next game against the United States. My resignation means that success in this competition is paramount. I don’t want to walk-away from this job without completing the aims I set in my manifesto upon initially accepting the job. I won’t be labelled a failure.”

Amie proceeded to relax in her seat for a while before awaiting any further questions. It was obvious the media were astounded by everything she had said, as nobody raised a question. They merely stared at one-another, instead. This announcement had come from absolutely nowhere, so the element of surprise was only natural. “Thank you for coming then,” the Lionesses head-coach said with a smile before lifting herself out of her seat and exiting the room.

Only Amie and the squad, who had been informed prior to the Norway game, knew what the future truly held for her, but for now, the focus remained entirely on the quest for a maiden World Cup title. Everyone in the Lionesses camp were hungry for it, even more so now they knew Amie was soon to be departing. It epitomised the respect the head-coach had established amongst her squad.

Syb: A truly appalling game to have witnessed. Cameroon ought to hang their heads in shame.
Seb: It certainly had the adverse effect against Norway! A truly remarkable performance against a very talented side.
balázsdzsudzsák: Cheers mate!
Jim: Cheers man. Onto the semi-finals now!
Jack: ...and now they've cruised past Norway. It'll be interesting to see whether the United States prove to be one-step too many for the Lionesses. Amie's confidence over the past few years has primarily centred around the belief her side can beat them; let's hope she's right otherwise she departs in underwhelming circumstances.
Aaron: Cheers, Azza.
An interesting decision for Amie to announce this ahead of the biggest game of her career so far I'd assume. However, as long as she and her team say they are focused I am sure it won't have any impact on the game and I wonder where she will end up next!
A great win against Norway but a stunning announcement. I'm not sure the effect this will have on the team - if it will fire them up or deflate them - but it comes before a huge game against the States. It also begs the question of what Amie will do following her role with the England womens team.

2nd July 2019

Despite the concerns that surrounded the squad heading into the World Cup following our defeat to New Zealand, I firmly believed we were on an upwards trajectory from the moment we won the SheBelieves Cup earlier in the year. Our victory in the competition asserted our intent to take-on the very best, including the USA. Scotland, Argentina, Japan, Cameroon and Norway all fell as victims to the barrage we brought to the tournament in France at this World Cup. The belief that England could attain their maiden victory in France was at fever-pitch ahead of the semi-final clash with the United States.

My impending resignation had done very little to deter the player's moods. The performance against Norway proved that. The media were oblivious to that aspect of knowledge and therefore the stories being ran in numerous outlets were largely voided as a result. The players were entirely focused on the next game just as I were. We all shared the common goal of desperately wanting to take the step that no previous England side had done before in a women's World Cup in reaching the final. If we could do that by beating the reigning champions and the greatest women's footballing side on the planet, well... who knows?

However, it was imperative that we remained fixated on the United States and nothing else. The challenge at hand was arguably the greatest challenge any of us would ever face. It would be naive of me to suggest there has been a greater challenge in my career - both as a player and a manager - than taking on the United States, anyway. They are truly a magnificent footballing nation, in which have and will continue to set the boundaries for the women's game.

The team was confirmed to the players on the eve of the game. It was a testament to every single member of the squad that every decision I made ahead of the semi-final was an incredibly difficult decision to make. Everyone was hungry to start, just as they been all tournament.

The starting eleven was as followed: Telford, Bronze, Houghton, Bright, Stokes, Walsh, Scott, Daly, Parris, Mead, White.

Carly was granted a start in-goal ahead of Karen on the premise that the latter had sustained a minor injury ahead of the game and therefore wasn't to be risked when we were blessed with an equally adept option in the form of the Chelsea number-one.

Demi Stokes and Rachel Daly were also afforded opportunities due to their work in training over the last week. Both Alex Greenwood and Fran Kirby, who both started in the victory against Norway, were both beginning to feel the effects of the demanding schedule. Having had discussions with the pair, it was decided that rotation was in the best interests of all parties.

The USA starting eleven was as followed: Naeher, O'Hara, Dahlkemper, Sauerbrunn, Dunn, Lavelle, Ertz, Horan, Heath, Morgan, Press.

The United States notably left Megan Rapinoe out of the starting eleven, opting to start Christen Press in her absence. Press was an established star of the USWNT having made one-hundred and twenty six appearances for her country over the last six years, earning her maiden cap against Scotland in February 2013. The pair had been continuously rotating with one-another, but Press hadn't started ahead of Rapinoe since the second group match against Chile, so the move came as a surprise to us all.

Samantha Mewis was also dropped from the side that beat France in the previous round. Instead, Tobin Heath was elected to start; suggesting that Jill Ellis was keen to play a more expansive-style in order to counter-act our attacking nature that enabled us to dominate proceedings in the previous round against Norway.

Steph Houghton led the rallying calls in the changing rooms ahead of the game when the players returned from their warm-ups. I was particularly fortunate to have such a natural-leader in Steph; she often made my team-talks for me ahead of games because she's an extremely gifted individual in the sense that not only is she arguably one of the greatest defenders in the women's game, but also somebody who has an ability to motivate to a level not many can. She's a truly inspiring individual, both on and off the pitch, who I have been very lucky to work alongside. The impact of true leadership is often understated, but certainly not in the case of Steph.

The conclusion of her speech was met with a ripple of applause from every person in the room. There was a confidence amongst the players to which I knew we meant business as they walked out in an orderly fashion into the tunnel. It wasn't a case of us having to be ready for the United States, now. The United States had to be ready for us. With a few brief moments to compose themselves, the curtain was raised. It was show-time.

Electric. That was one word you could use to describe the atmosphere around the Stade de Lyon as over 53,500 spectators were in attendance, including thousands of England supporters as well as Americans, but largely comprised of neutrals. One thing was for certain though; the US had asserted a popularity that stemmed far beyond their own borders. The majority of neutrals would be far from neutral in the grand scheme of things.

One of the primary aims I set as head-coach was to reduce the apathy amongst the general public at home. I was beyond pleased to discover that over 11.7 million people tuned in to watch the game. It highlighted the significance of this World Cup, but emphasised the impact these players have had on the viewing public back home. They have truly captured the attention of the majority who previously were unaware at the talent brimming within the ranks of their nation's women's national team, but also within the game as a whole.

The national anthem, as always, was sung with the upmost pride ahead of kick-off. There was a nervous tension in the air from both sets of supporters following the initial welcome to the pitch which had blanketed the entire stadium, but the metaphorical blanket would soon be lifted upon the conclusion of 'The Star-Spangled Banner.' The tension was replaced by excitement; we were ready.

Ellen got the game underway as we tentatively passed the ball around in the opening few seconds to compose ourselves into the game. I reiterated ahead of the game that we couldn't expect to be granted time and space as we often were against Norway. The United States were a different animal in which had the basics to their game fine-tuned to perfection. We wouldn't be budged from playing our natural game, but we would have to be more cautious in the way we looked to create opportunities.

The opening few minutes largely consisted of both teams merely gaining an impression for each other. There was little to no attacking threat to which was understandable given the context of the game.

As we approached the quarter-hour mark, there was some need to be less reserved in our play. The defence, who were previously content with playing the ball amongst themselves, began to advance the play further up the pitch more so than before. Nikita Parris in particular was starting to become more involved in the game, as she sought to provide service for Ellen White who hadn't had a sniff of the ball at all to this point, although nor had Alex Morgan for the Americans.

Parris was granted the opportunity to drive at the experienced back-line of the Americans, that had amassed well-over four hundred caps between them. Attempting to cut inside onto her left-foot, she took a swing at the ball and curled her effort on-target. The pace on the ball made the save difficult for Alyssa Naeher, who had asserted herself as the replacement for legendary goalkeeper Hope Solo following her retirement in 2016, but she held onto the effort well.

Jill Ellis's side were quick to respond with a decent opportunity of their own, an expertly-timed ball from Julie Ertz found the run of Alex Morgan, but her finish lacked composure as she sliced the effort wide from the edge of the area after Millie Bright recovered to prevent Morgan from having a one-on-one opportunity. The warning signs were there and we couldn't afford to give Ertz as much time as we did to play the ball she did into Morgan again.

At half-time the score remained level with neither side creating any further opportunities. The game was being played to a very high-level, but the defences of either side were proving to be a nuisance to unlock.

"I'm pleased, but there's certainly a lot to improve on in the second-half. Ellen has been largely absent in the first-half because the ball continues to bypass her. The midfield needs to have more bite to win the ball higher-up the pitch. I understand there's a reluctance to present that space in-behind and leave the defence vulnerable, but we're not creating enough and they're being gifted too much time in this area of the pitch," I communicated in the dressing-room.

"We need to do out in the second-half, apply these methods and look to create from the off. Unsettle them! We've seen against France in the videos we analysed they can be vulnerable." Steph echoed my words with a roaring passion in her voice. "Come on!" she exclaimed. "The gaffer is right... improvement has to be made if we want to seriously beat these lot. We won't win if we're not more daring in our approach." Her additions were met with nods from the players.

"Now get out there, girls," I concluded as the players jogged out for the second-half to accompany the Americans who were already awaiting our return.

Applause was audible as we returned to the field from the England supporters and with everything in place, the second-half was underway.

There was a definite switch to the game in the second-half from both sides. In the first-half, both sides had remained passengers in the game with nobody in the ascendancy, but this wasn't to be the case in the final forty-five minutes. The attacking threat of the US was on display once again within the opening five minutes of the half when Kirsten Press was given too much room in the area from a deep-cross by Heath. Fortunately, her header was smartly stopped by Telford before the ball was hoofed away.

I demanded an improvement from my players once again.

However, we would soon create our own clear-cut opportunity. Similarly to the opening goal of our previous game against Norway, Lucy drove down the right-flank, but instead looked over to the opposing-wing to send a pin-point ball across the pitch to pick out Fran Kirby, who had replaced Beth Mead with half an hour to go. She took the ball down excellently, laid off Jill Scott to send a ball into the box which found Ellen White, but the striker was unable to keep her effort down from close-range.

It was encouraging to see we were beginning to stamp our authority into the game as the minutes went by. Jill Ellis resorted to bringing on Samantha Mewis which represented the Americans concern at our growth into the game with around twenty-five minutes to play. We would make a like-for-like change in the form of Jade Moore replacing Keira Walsh soon after.

The game represented two sides that were full of quality but appeared to be equal to one-another. We looked set for extra-time as either side were unable to create a killer opportunity to ensure they converted what would likely be a decisive goal with ten minutes to go.

Georgia Stanway would replace Rachel Daly, whereas Carly Lloyd and Ali Krieger came on in-place of Tobin Heath and Kelley O'Hara respectively for the US. The changes made from both teams represented a desire to settle the game in normal-time as the final ten minutes saw an open-ended game with more space to navigate in than before.

In spite of this, the forth-official's board was raised firmly into the air with the scores still at nil-nil. "There will be a minimum of four minutes added-time, four minutes," the PA system announced to the stadium. The announcement was met with an excitement of cries from every corner of the pitch; both English and American supporters were keen on witnessing a late winner from their side.

There was real urgency now from our opponents. The Americans were bombarding us with efforts on goal to which we could only respond to by putting bodies in the way. Back-to-back corners were conceded and I was nervously watching on, hoping we could simply get the ball away and concede that extra-time would be necessary. The second corner was delivered with far more pace than the initial corner by Mewis. Fortunately, Millie Bright rose highest to head the ball away from danger as it swung dangerously into the area.

Millie's header was powerful and forced the ball all the way back to just within our half. Crystal Dunn attempted to hoist the ball back into the box, but miscued her cross completely. Instead, it presented itself kindly to Nikita Parris who realised the space ahead of her and set her sights on exploiting the lack of American presence. She began powerfully running towards the panicked American defence, beating one... and then another, leaving her with empty space to run into. Parris had to keep her nerve.

The England supporters recognised this was our chance and row upon row of people leapt out of their seat. She continued her run into the box and seemingly was ready to strike. Everyone held their breath. Nikita swung her foot towards the ball, but instead of powering her effort towards goal, she played the ball back. Ellen White was awaiting after continuing her run alongside Parris and was on hand to delicately place the ball home.

England one, the USA nil.

Pandemonium ensued. The celebrations were led by both Ellen and Nikita, who ran directly over to the England supporters closely followed by the remainder of the players. The bench, including myself, shot off in pursuit. There was nothing other than sheer joy; with tears being shed in some cases. The goal came right at the very death. There was simply no time for an American response.

There was a stark contrast in the reactions from the teams and supporters, as the American players collapsed to the ground in dejection. They would pick themselves up for another thirty seconds at most; in which they surrendered the ball by lumping the ball out of play with a hopeful ball to no avail. The final-whistle followed. England had done it.

I cannot quite emphasise the feeling we felt as a collective group at that moment, but we gave every last fibre of our being to win that game. The players were exhausted, but their celebrations were fuelled by the elation that overcame us all. The celebrations toned down after a minutes, as the players realised there was still another game to go. This was merely another step in the road.

"Congratulations, ladies." I laughed, as the players all cheered as I entered the dressing-room. I had just conducted a press interview in which I mostly stuttered through as I failed to find the superlatives to describe what had just occurred. "I just want to say, I am incredibly proud of you. You have conducted yourself brilliantly today and thoroughly deserve this moment. However, we must put this result behind us and prepare ourselves for the final. Enjoy this moment tonight because tomorrow we start afresh." With that, the celebrations began once again.

Our opponents would be unknown to us until tomorrow, but whoever it may be; Sweden or the Netherlands, we would be ready.

Seb: It certainly made for unusual timing, indeed. At least it had no baring on the result... or did it have an adverse effect? ;)
Jack: Amie has certainly kept her cards close to her chest so far in regards to where her future lies following this announcement, hasn't she.
A very impressive result against the favorites for the tournament I'd assume. Very professionally done and no better time to win it with a last second counter attack!

You are reading "Amie Belshaw: A Woman on a Mission".

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