Belfast Telegraph

Fara Williams tips Mark Sampson to inspire Lionesses to the final

By John Kkilbeck

Marauding midfielder Fara Williams is backing tinkerman boss Mark Sampson to steer England into the Women's World Cup final.

A thrilling campaign for the Lionesses can reach an historic climax with glory in Vancouver on Sunday night, but first they must handle reigning world champions Japan in their Edmonton semi-final tonight (midnight BST).

Manager Sampson, a 32-year-old Welshman plucked from Bristol Academy in late 2013 to succeed long-serving Hope Powell, promised before the tournament he would shuffle his starting line-ups to counter England's opposition and has been as good as his word.

Williams, 31, who has stretched her record to 145 caps during England's run, is one of just three players to have started every game, alongside captain Steph Houghton and goalkeeper Karen Bardsley.

Sampson's mix-and-match policy would have faced intense scrutiny if England bowed out early, but the boss has found a Midas touch.

"We met up as a squad of 35 in a hotel after Christmas and Mark sat down with the whole squad and told us the whole selection process," Williams said.

"He told us how he was looking to select the team come the World Cup. We knew the route we could potentially be taking.

"Mark's known his teams for each of the games and he told everybody he was going to pick teams that he felt would best suit the opposition, and he's done that fantastically well.

"The whole team has bought into what he's been doing and we're continuing to build momentum. While he's getting the results, we're not complaining."

Sampson announced his team to face Japan in a squad meeting on Monday, which for England was a "classroom" day, spent away from the training pitch and learning about the opposition.

"They're world champions so we've got to remember that," Williams said.

"You don't become world champions through luck. We have to respect what they achieved four years ago, but not show too much respect where we don't go out and do our job.

"We've got a game plan our staff believe will give us the result we want and I'm sure it'll be the right one."

Bright news for England is that Bardsley will be fit to face Japan, having been substituted during the quarter-final win over Canada due to an apparent allergic reaction that caused her right eye to swell.

As a player, Sampson went no further than semi-professional football in the Welsh leagues. As a manager, his profile is growing by the game.

"Mark deserves every credit he's going to get for what he's done with this team and how he's turned the team around in this past 18 months, not just on the pitch but off the pitch," Williams said.

"He's brought this group of players together. Myself and some of the senior players have been here a long time and probably haven't felt as together as this team is, and that's a credit to Mark and his staff."

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