England ready for Spain ‘dark arts’

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England thrashed Scotland 6-0 in their opening match of the competition

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England boss Mark Sampson says his team are ready for Spain’s “dark arts” when the two highest ranked teams of Euro 2017 Group D face each other on Sunday.

Both sides won their opening matches, and could qualify for the quarter-finals with a victory in Breda.

Spain have been tipped to do well, but Sampson says his opponents are “difficult to fall in love with”.

“No-one would argue their possession-based football is pleasing on the eye,” he said.

“But the reason why a lot of people find it difficult to fall in love with them is because they’ve got the other bit as well; the ill-discipline, the feigning injury, getting around the referee.

“So we are ready for the possession game and the dark arts, which are not the nicest part, but we have to manage that.”

Defender Casey Stoney is the only omission for the game against Spain – who are ranked 13th in the world, eight places below England – as she still has a hamstring problem.

The 35-year-old was one of nine players at Euro 2017 who also played in the demoralising 3-2 group defeat by La Roja at Euro 2013, which included an injury-time own goal by goalkeeper Karen Bardsley.

But with Sampson in charge, the Lionesses ended Spain’s run of 13 matches unbeaten with a 2-1 in a friendly last October.

“It’s about making rational decisions on the field,” Sampson added.

“You can’t choose that you don’t react, you have to choose your reaction. When you make a mistake emotionally, you react without thinking.

“We’ve got to make sure that we perform emotionally, but we always have that clarity of thought in that pressurised moment.”

Spain head coach Jorge Vilda, whose squad have nine Barcelona players in their ranks, refused to be drawn on Sampson’s comments.

He said: “We weren’t at our best in October, and that proves what a tough game it will be. Things have changed since then and we are ready for these tough opponents.”

Highlights: England 6-0 Scotland

England a ‘different team’ since 2013

Five players involved in that Euro 2013 loss, where England crashed out at the group stage, also played in the opening 6-0 win over Scotland on Wednesday.

But younger players such as Jade Moore, who was an unused substitute in Sweden, have spoken about how that defeat has been wiped from the players’ minds.

“The belief in the camp is different [to the 3-2 loss to Spain in 2013]. The squad four years ago is very different. The belief we can go and win the European Championship is a massive thing – we are looking at this as the second game of six.”

Lucy Bronze, another player who sat on the bench for the whole of Euro 2013, added: “Players are in form and as prepared as they can be, so we are in a better place than we are four years in terms of preparation and we showed that in the first game against Scotland.”

The 25-year-old Manchester City defender added: “If we play the kind of game that we can play, any sort of ‘dark arts’ won’t bother us. We have to focus on what we have to do.”


BBC Sport commentator Jonathan Pearce

Mark Sampson talks about his team being ready, confident, super-fit and authoritative. They showed all those qualities in the win against Scotland.

After her injuries Jodie Taylor was razor sharp. Her movement is world-class. The partnership with Fran Kirby looks dangerous.

Had Jordan Nobbs stayed fit, England could have won the World Cup. She looked full of pace and energy.

Lucy Bronze is the most powerful attacking right-back here. She can cause Spain real problems again.

The Spanish looked a technically gifted, very good passing side against Portugal. Amanda Sampedro is tireless in midfield. Vicky Losada has scored in her last three games. They’ve conceded only five in their last nine.

But England can expose them in the wide areas and win again to clinch the group.

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