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England have three weeks to become “legends”, says manager Mark Sampson, before their Euro 2017 opener against Scotland on Wednesday (19:45 BST).
The Lionesses are aiming to improve on their third place in the 2015 World Cup with Sampson claiming his team will be the “fittest in the tournament”.
Scotland, playing in their first major tournament, have lost key players Kim Little and Jennifer Beattie to injury.
“We are underdogs,” said Scotland boss Anna Signeul.
“But it’s the proudest moment of my career.”
Sampson, whose side are ranked fifth in the world, 16 places above their opponents, said that tag was unjustified.
“A lot of people outside of the game probably think this is a banker for an England win,” said Sampson. “But I’ve been of the opinion that even though it’s their first major championship they should have qualified for 2013 and 2015.”
Despite that warning the Welshman is aiming to win England’s first silverware and they go into the tournament as one of the favourites, alongside France and Germany.
He added: “We’ve told the players: ‘These three weeks change the next 50 years.’ Three weeks of hard work and we’ve got 50 years to live as legends.”
‘We don’t need a history lesson’
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will be among the crowd in Utrecht as Scotland seek to make their mark on the tournament against their closest neighbours after narrowly missing out on qualifying for Euro 2009 and 2013 following play-off defeats.
The rivalry between the two teams dates back to 1972 where, like their respective men’s teams, England and Scotland met in each nation’s first official women’s international.
And several players on either side are team-mates at club level, including Scottish striker Jane Ross, who will be up against Manchester City team-mate and England skipper Steph Houghton.
In the build-up to the game, England players were shown a film about the history of Scotland to help understand their opponent’s motivations.
But when it was suggested it included the film Braveheart, where 13th century Scottish warrior William Wallace is played by American actor Mel Gibson, Scotland skipper Gemma Fay added: “I don’t think we need a history lesson and it would be interesting to see the reaction to Mel Gibson’s accent.
“When you are born in Scotland, you are born into the rivalry. This is the biggest game of my career, and it’s probably the same for my team-mates, but it’s not going to overshadow what we’re here to do: win our first game in a European Championship.”
England aiming high after Canada success
England have not won an opening game in a major tournament since 2005, but after losing to France in their 2015 World Cup opener, they finished as Europe’s top team, beating Germany for the first time in their history in a third-place play-off.
That success has sparked a quest to add to the recent successes of England youth teams in the Under-20 World Cup and the European Under-19 Championship. The Lionesses previous bests were as runners-up in the 1984 and 2009 European Championships.
Sampson has instilled a rigorous fitness regime, which he claims leaves his side as one of the best prepared teams in the tournament. And despite being billed as one of the favourites to win Euro 2017, he says the team are ready for the challenge.
“The expectation to do well has been different for the group and we talk a lot about how you use that as a positive or a negative,” he said. “At the end of the day, there’s not many teams that have won tournaments who didn’t have the expectation on them, and we want to harness that.
“The recent successes show England teams are on the right path, so it’s great to get fans excited about the potential of an England team doing something special at a major tournament and hopefully we can be the senior team that changes that.”
Former England goalkeeper Rachel Brown-Finnis, co-commentator BBC Radio 5 live:
Scotland have the capabilities to make things difficult for England and striker Jane Ross could hurt them on the counter-attack, but from England’s perspective the expectation is that they should win.
The attacking force down the wings and the skill of their front three will pin Scotland back and create a lot of chances so it’s about England being clinical.
The girls are chomping at the bit to go in this tournament, and the experience they gained from the last World Cup, where they lost their opener to France and then went on to finish third, means they will be looking to lay down a marker. But they’ve prepared as hard as they can and with that comes the belief that they can go on and beat anybody.
Former Scotland striker Steven Thompson, co-commentator BBC Radio Scotland:
It’s a very difficult opening game, England are self-professed tournament favourites but they have a strong side. We know how tough it will be for Scotland and they will need a 10/10 performance and to hope England have an off-day.
They have star players missing, but Scotland have had time to recover from that, and in Erin Cuthbert they have an exceptionally talented player, and I hope she gets some game time, because she is very inventive. Defender Vaila Barsley is a big presence and will be a threat from set-pieces.
What more could you want as a your first game in a major tournament? It will be the biggest game of their careers and this is huge for raising the profile of women’s football in Scotland. We’ve never had such a stage for them to play on so it’s a huge opportunity.
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