England eye win to set up France meeting

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Mark Sampson was appointed England women’s manager in 2013
Women’s Euro 2017: Portugal v England
Venue: Tilburg, the Netherlands Date: Thursday, 27 July Kick-off: 19:45 BST
Coverage: Listen on BBC Radio 5 live and online; live text commentary on the BBC Sport website; live on Channel Four

Manager Mark Sampson says England still want to beat Portugal in their final Women’s Euro 2017 group game on Thursday, even though it would mean playing France in the quarter-finals.

The Lionesses need a point in Tilburg to qualify as winners of Group D after France finished runners-up in Group C.

England have not beaten France since 1974 and have lost to them in the past three major tournaments.

“We’re 100% a team that is about improving and winning,” said Sampson.

“We’re demanding that England find a way to win this match against Portugal.”

England beat Scotland 6-0 and Spain 2-0 in their first two group games.

If they beat Portugal, the lowest ranked side in the competition, without conceding a goal, they will become the first England side – male or female – to progress at a major tournament with a 100% record and without conceding.

“That’s one of the challenges,” said Sampson. “The most important thing is to win, but a clean sheet to nick the record is a nice little bonus.

“So far at this tournament we’ve got the biggest winning margin in European Championships, the first English woman to score a hat-trick at a major tournament (Jodie Taylor) and the quickest ever goal in a European Championship (Fran Kirby against Spain).

“Now we’ve got a bit more history to create.”

England, who have defender Casey Stoney back in contention after a hamstring injury, are aiming to match hosts Netherlands in qualifying for the last eight with a perfect record.

If England win, Scotland will progress with victory over Spain in the other group game on Thursday.

Portugal – ranked 38th in the world and making their European Championship debut – will qualify if they beat England by three goals.

Portugal attacker Amanda da Costa, a former Liverpool player, said: “England are potentially our most difficult opponent, but we are happy to have this opportunity and we will play with pride and soul.

“We are a very technical side and we can pose a threat behind the backline, like we proved against Scotland. We’ve been working hard together for a month and it’s all leading towards this game.”

‘Keep the snowball rolling’

Sampson named an unchanged team for the win over Spain, the first time he had done so in 55 games in charge.

However, he could make several changes to his side against Portugal.

If England win the group, they will face group C runners-up France, a team they have not beaten since 1974, in the last eight.

“We’re not concerned with who we’re going to play in the quarter-final,” said Sampson.

“The key focus for Portugal is to get the result, so we go into that quarter-final as the team with momentum. We want to stay ahead of the game.

“I’m excited to see whatever group of players play on Thursday raise the bar from the Spain game. We want to keep the snowball rolling.”

Bassett in line for England start

Laura Bassett (right) has won 62 caps for England since 2003

One of the changes is likely to be Laura Bassett coming in at centre-back, despite her playing no domestic league football in 2017 after Notts County Ladies folded before the start of the Women’s Super League One Spring Series.

Bassett, who scored an own goal as England lost in the semi-finals of the 2015 World Cup, said she is “ready to go”.

“Since I’ve been in camp I’ve had no feedback to say I’m behind anyone else,” said Bassett, who chose to train with Birmingham City rather than join another club.

“Everything’s been going well. I’ve stayed fit and played a full 90 minutes against Denmark [England’s final pre-tournament friendly fixture].”

Analysis – ‘Portugal lack power to match England’

BBC commentator Jonathan Pearce

Mark Sampson faces something of a dilemma for this. He’ll want to rest some players and give those on the fringe some first match action. But it’s crucial to keep England’s momentum rolling.

Last year at Euro 2016, England men’s boss Roy Hodgson made six changes at this stage. His team were held by Slovakia and they never regained their rhythm. Spain Under-21s fell into the same trap this summer.

England should be strong enough to ensure a quarter-final place whatever team they field.

Portugal are the lowest-ranked side here. Scotland should have beaten them. They lack the physical power to match England, who have worked too hard to throw away top spot in Group D.

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