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Houghton: City spine can inspire England dream

CLUB AND COUNTRY: Steph Houghton captains both City and England

CLUB AND COUNTRY: Steph Houghton captains both City and England

Steph Houghton believes England’s core of Manchester City stars could be the difference as the Lionesses prepare to welcome Canada to the Academy Stadium in April.

Grudge matches don’t come much more exciting than when England face Canada, with the Lionesses knocking the hosts out of their own World Cup back in 2015.

Fast-forward four years and while the dust has settled on the match, the importance certainly hasn’t – with Phil Neville’s side eyeing up vital preparation to their latest World Cup campaign this summer.

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That’s where Houghton believes the Manchester City stranglehold can make its mark on home soil, with no fewer than nine members of the SheBelieves Cup squad plying their trade under Nick Cushing.

“It is great to have so many of my teammates with me in the England squad at the moment because of course you bring those relationships with you,” said Houghton ahead of the clash, which kicks off at 7.15pm on Friday 5 April.

“You see each other every single day so whether that is in a Manchester City environment or an England environment, the rapport we have on and off the pitch at the moment just makes life a lot easier.

“Most importantly I think Canada are a very good team and we have had some very good battles with them, obviously the last one being at the World Cup in 2015. 

“I think it is going to be a bit of feisty fixture but for us playing it at the City Football Academy and being back in Manchester will really suit us.

“Hopefully we can get a lot of people to that game and sell out the stadium.

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“I think they will probably want to come and beat us on our home turf now.”

Revenge may be on Canada’s mind but Houghton is hell-bent on denying them even a sniff when April rolls around – remembering just how much the initial meeting meant to her.

The 2-1 win in the World Cup quarter-finals will go down as one of the defender’s favourite outings, Jodie Taylor and Lucy Bronze netting an early sucker-punch to down the hosts.

But for an England side that had seldom felt the furore of a packed-out stadium rooting against them, that win was as much about mental strength for Houghton as it was physical skill.

The captain that day has certainly felt plenty of ups and downs since but when it comes to facing the world’s No.5 ranked side – one spot behind England – it doesn’t get much more exciting.

“Before that game in 2015 there was a lot of hype with them being the host nation and that they were expecting to win in front of 50,000 fans,” added Houghton.

“When we arrived in that stadium we had a feeling that we were going to win no matter what happened and for us we really embraced the occasion.

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“On that day we were unbelievable, the way we set up and pressed them and the result to top it all off made us believe that we belong on the big stage and showed that when the pressure is on we can rise to it.

“For me that is one of my favourite ever games I have played for England and it really was a turning point, not just for us as a team, but for how people thought about women’s football in England.”

But with the Canada clash proving just a warm-up for the summer’s World Cup in France, Houghton knows this is just a stepping stone in the long-term game – albeit a major one.

She added: “The preparations for the World Cup are going well and we have four games to play before we fly out to France so the mentality is just to stay as fit as we can and get used to the way Phil wants us to play.

“We have an unbelievable opportunity to try and bring that trophy home and we will be trying our best to do that.”

England Women host Canada in a ‘Road to France’ international on Friday, 5 April at The Academy Stadium, Manchester City FC, KO 7.15pm. Tickets available at £10/£1 from www.thefa.com/lionessestickets

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