England and Arsenal forward Lianne Sanderson has been named in a World Cup squad before, in 2007, but eight years and 46 international caps later, the 27-year-old “had a lump in my throat” when head coach Mark Sampson informed her that she was in his 23-member group for Canada 2015.
Sanderson had quit the national team in 2010 after a fallout with then-coach Hope Powell and did not play the 2011 World Cup, the 2012 Olympics or the European Cup in 2013. However, she revived her England career after Sampson’s arrival in 2013 and is now one of seven forwards in the squad for Canada.
— Lianne Sanderson (@liannesanderson) May 11, 2015
“It still feels a bit surreal,” said Sanderson on Monday, after the squad was officially announced. “When I got the phone call from Mark a week ago or so, I came off the phone and was pretty emotional. It was a moment that was nice to share with my partner, my mom and dad, because they know what I’ve been through in the last four years.
Since her reintegration within the national setup, Sanderson has reignited her international career, scoring seven of her 15 England goals in the last two years under Sampson.
Despite her prowess, the striking forward did not take her spot in the squad for granted. “People can say that you’ve been a part of Mark’s squad ever since he’s come in, but that doesn’t mean I take that position for granted.
“You never know until you’re actually selected. Sometimes it’s down to personal opinion and sometimes it’s just down to the manager’s choice.
“It was taken away from me earlier, so I look at it with a different perspective.
“I know I had done everything I could to be potentially selected. I trained well, ate right, slept right and took care of myself. I thought that I gave myself the best opportunity to be picked.
“When I got the phone call, I was so excited, so happy.”
Recalling the moment she got the call from Sampson, Sanderson said: “At the time I was in America; I had gone back for a few days back to where I live. I couldn’t sleep, I had butterflies.
“When Mark called, it was 6 ‘o clock in the morning. I had a lump in my throat and there was a moment when I just broke down a little bit. I was obviously really happy but it was like, wow, this is unbelievable.
“The World Cup is what you dream of as a kid. I’m just so excited to get there now. It’s just the beginning really because the squad has just been announced and our work’s only getting started.
“I think it’s important for us to enjoy this moment and take it all in, but now it’s the time to push on. I’m not happy just to be selected; I want to help the team in any way I can.”
— Lianne Sanderson (@liannesanderson) May 11, 2015
Sampson said that Sanderson was an important player in the squad and believes she is ready to take the World Cup by storm:
“Lianne has been important for us. Some of the performances she has put in, more recently in the final of the Cyprus Cup against Canada, she was outstanding.
“Lianne has certainly fitted in well with the group since she has come back in. Now, she’s ready to go and perform at a greater stage. She will be called upon and has an important role to play.”
Having played for American clubs Philadelphia Independence, D.C. United Women and Boston Breakers for most part of her self-imposed exile, Sanderson hopes to take on the USA in the World Cup:
“It’s where I played for five years and a lot of my friends play for that team. So, I hope we can progress to the later stages and play against them.”
Is there a team she would like World No 6 England to avoid?
“No, I think for me, to be the best you have to beat the best. Obviously, we don’t want to play against Germany, USA and Sweden in that order, but at some point you have to play against the big guns,” she said.
England are nowhere near being favourites to lift the cup in Vancouver on July 5, but Sanderson welcomes the underdog tag:
“I think at this moment in time, we’re going under the radar a little bit. I’ve seen a lot of interviews and people are talking a lot about other teams, which is fine because we’re okay with being that team.
“We can quietly go about our business, prepare the best way we can and hopefully go there and do things we’ve never done before.”
England have had a mixed bag of pre-tournament form. Sampson’s women lost to Germany in a record sell-out game at Wembley in November and to the USA in February, before coming back to clinch their third Cyprus Cup in March.
Sanderson believes the Lionesses have progressed well under Sampson and are genuine title contenders:
“We’re not going there to not win. It’s important for us to do better than we have before, get the country behind us, spread awareness and hopefully get a lot of young kids watching the game.
“Since Mark’s come in, we’ve certainly been really prepared. We’re going to hopefully go there and be the best prepared team.
“Losing to Germany and America — nobody likes losing, but it’s important to learn from those losses and see why we lost.
“We had been through the World Cup qualifying and not really had a strong test yet and I think going into the Germany game it was a really strong test. They’re a great team — one of the best in the world.
“From that game, we’ve learnt to play different formations and learnt what we need to do.”
Sanderson also hopes to change the image of England teams in the minds of the fans with respect to World Cups and one-up the men’s team, who crashed out of the 2014 World Cup in the group stages.
“These girls have got fight, they’ve got heart and they play like an England team should. A lot of people thought that that’s lacked in the past with the England teams — not necessarily the women but the male side.
“In this team, there is a lot of passion, a lot of heart, drive and ambition. People see that when they come to watch us play.”
Featured image courtesy: joshjdss (Creative Commons)