Of course it wasn't all doom and gloom for England's national teams over the summer there was one stand out team the Women's U19's who took part in their own European Championships in Wales back in August. Mo Marley the team coach had assembled herself a very gifted squad of young players, who played some very good positive passing football and made it all the way to the final without conceding a goal and in doing so qualifying for the U20 World Cup in Canada 2014 in the process. Unfortunately they were beaten after extra-time in the final by a very strong and physical France. They can however be proud of what they achieved and I will certainly be looking out for many of those players to see how they progress with extra interest as I travel the country to various games.
Below is one of my favourite pictures I took during the summer at Llanelli's Parc ye Scarlets stadium at the final before kick off love it, it's a major tournament final and shows how excited these girls are...
Anyway for the senior women's team it is a new era one without hope... (sorry nicked that one from everyone and their dog). Brent Hills, Hope Powell's assistant was put in temporary charge for the first two qualifying games against Belarus and Turkey whilst the FA began its search for a successor. There weren't too many surprises in Brent Hills first squad calling up the in form Natasha Dowie and Danielle Carter. Many had called for both Toni Duggan and Jordan Nobbs to be in the starting line-up and he duly oblieged as I travelled down to the Goldsands stadium on the south coast at Bournemouth for the first game against Belarus.
It was however Karen Carney who stole the show striking a first half hat-trick as England romped to a comfortable 6-0 victory ,White, Dowie and Aluko with the other goals. This was followed by an even more convincing 8-0 demolition of Turkey at Portsmouth 5 days later a perfect start for the caretaker boss.
Roll on a month later and the FA confirm that Brent Hills will continue in the role for the next two qualifiers at home to Wales and away to Turkey. Out of all the England Women's World Cup qualifiers this is one was the one I had to see my first home nation's football match in any form. Out of all the teams in the group Wales would present England with the toughest challenge many of their squad play in the WSL with Natasha Harding and Jess Fishlock being the two players to watch out for. That being said squad on squad England's was the strongest I expected a win but certainly not by the margin of the previous two games.
Off to London I travelled (via Lincolnshire) with three fellow excited and enthusiastic supporters in tow our venue The Den in the heart of London home to Championship side Millwall FC. Driving in London was for myself a relatively new experience but that's why I have a sat nav (do as she says) and I usually get there. Heading right past the Olympic Park, a place I must visit one day we made good time, no parking at the ground mind we took our chances on a single yellow line and headed to the ground.
The Den (formerly The New Den) is an impressive looking stadium I liked it and can imagine it's a pretty imposing place for an opposition team to visit when the home team are playing. England and Wales supporters filled the lower tiers of the ground on all four sides which was good. A good atomsphere everyone was looking forwards to the game.
The first half was a story of England dominance without finding the back of the net the Welsh goalkeeper Nicola Davies pulled off some fabulous saves, frustrating England's attackers who were passing the ball across the pitch with adandon trying in particular to get Karen Carney onto the ball from the right. Wales did have a couple of moments but on both occasions when a snap shot was the option their players hesitated and allowed England's defenders a chance to make a challenge. Still going in at 0-0 at half time Wales would have been pleased even with the injury Jess Fishlock suffered to her arm.
The second half however was a different story Natasha Harding had to be replaced through injury and with her arm bandaged up and clearly in discomfort Jess Fishlock playing in a deeper role for her country was struggling. England's Jordan Nobbs had done a fantastic job marking the Welsh playmaker in the first half found herself on the edge of the box with a scoring chance early on and England were in the lead.
With Jess Fishlock really struggling to continue (there's only so many times you can land on a damaged limb) England could attack in even greater numbers and it was Toni Duggan who added a second goal midway through the second half and effectively kill off the game. There was no point in Fishlock struggling on it was a brave effort as she was subsituted. From then on it was a combination of brave defending from Wales and wayward shooting from England that prevented a greater scoreline as England ran out comforable winners 2-0. A tougher opponent it was a game England certainly needed, the return match in Wales I'm sure will be an equally passionate affair.
After three games England lead the group with no goals conceded and 16 scored, a great start for Brent Hills onto Turkey where you would expect another victory. England will be confident but I'm sure never complacent of winning the group and qualifying for the World Cup and with a new manager to come and places to play for the real benefit should be the WSL and the fans who support it.