Steph Houghton believes this summer’s Women’s World Cup tournament is the best yet.
The City and England captain, who made her 100th appearance for England last year, is competing in her third edition of the tournament, having led her country to a bronze medal in Canada in 2015.
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Houghton has featured in every minute of the Lionesses’ 2019 campaign, scoring the opener in the Round of 16 triumph over Cameroon, and asserts the quality on show, increased media coverage and unprecedented public interest ensures this tournament emulates all previous competitions.
With many describing this year’s tournament as a ‘watershed moment’ for women’s football, the 31-year-old declared her side are delighted to be playing their part in the rise of the game.
“We’re in our own little bubble, concentrating on our football,” she admitted.
“Every time a game has been played, we’ve been told the viewing figures. For them to be record-breaking is fantastic for English football but also for football in general as well.
“The standard has been exceptional, and the amount of people coming in the crowds to watch us.
“To be able to attract that number of people to come and watch us at home and all over the world is unbelievable for this sport.
“It’s the best Women’s World Cup yet.”
England face their toughest test yet, locking horns with pre-tournament favourites the United States of America for a place in the Final.
Houghton admitted the reigning Champions pose a difficult proposition but maintains the Lionesses are relishing the challenge.
“For us, we respect those players – Megan Rapinoe especially in terms of what she’s done. She’s a great player and she’s shown that for years,” she stated.
“We respect any opponent we come across but ultimately, we have to focus on ourselves and believe in our ability. I believe in my teammates, playing against the best players.
“We have players who always love big games and big moments, and they don’t come much bigger than a semi-final against the World Champions.”
Having captained England to the semi-final in 2015, Houghton has experienced the pressure of the latter stages but insists Phil Neville’s side are better-equipped both physically and mentally.
Tennis star Serena Williams shared the opinion, hailing the Lionesses’ fitness – much to Houghton’s delight.
“For those played involved in 2015, we never really expected to get to the semi-final,” Houghton conceded.
“Back then, it was one of out best games of the tournament and we were unlucky not to win. We were devastated when that goal went in.
“The players, particularly the more experienced part of the squad, are in a better position now. We can use our experience and remain calm and collected.
“I felt that was the case against Norway in the quarter-final the other night.
“We have a process we always do and it’s no different in a quarter-final or in the first group game. We have to carry on what we’re doing well, making sure we keep being brave and play with freedom, enjoying the moment.
“We pride ourselves on hard work and the ability to be one of the fittest teams and be humble in everything we do.
“For someone of Serena’s calibre and status to say that about me and my teammates is unbelievable and we’re thankful for that.
“It’s been documented well that Serena was in our hotel. A few girls were fangirling and rightly so – she’s an icon of women’s sport, who has won a lot of medals and trophies as one of the best tennis players in the world.
“To have seen her train on the court was an unbelievable experience that nobody gets the honour of doing. For her to have said that about us is amazing for this squad.
“In terms our fitness in comparison to 2015, the game has moved on so much. Fitness is a priority for us to be competing against the best teams in the world.
“We are one of them. We have shown over this tournament that we can go toe-to-toe with anyone.
“Against the USA, it’s going to be our physical attributes that could potentially win us the game.
“It’s not often you get to play in a semi-final and if we do those things, we stand a great chance of progressing.
“We’re happy with where we are and we’ve prepared well over the last four or five weeks.”