Ahead of this summer’s European Championships, sport online editor Nancy Frostick spoke to Manchester City and England midfielder Izzy Christiansen about the Lionesses’ chances at the tournament
The first six months of 2017 have gone exceptionally well for Manchester City and England midfielder Izzy Christiansen. The University of Birmingham alumna and former captain of UBWFC began the season with a solid performance in the SheBelieves Cup with England before being named in Mark Sampson’s 23-player squad for the European Championships in the Netherlands, her first major tournament with the senior squad. Success with Manchester City has continued into the new season following the club’s double of WSL 1 and Continental (League) Cup titles with progression to the semi-finals of the Champions League and their first FA Cup triumph. For now all focus turns to the WSL Spring Series in the build up to the main event – the Euros – which take place from 16th July-6th August as the Lionesses will look to build on their World Cup success after finishing third in Canada two years ago.
Off the back of their progress in Canada, England have risen up the FIFA rankings and gained respect from the top international sides in women’s football. Evidence of this came with an invitation to the exclusive SheBelieves Cup hosted by the USA. The Lionesses’ performance in last year’s competition left a lot to be desired as they finished winless and joint-last in the table. This year, however, a 1-0 win over the USA, and narrow defeats to Germany and France shows the development of a squad building to a major tournament this summer. Izzy’s lively performance against the USA was certainly one of the positives that England will carry forward.
‘I think that we can take great belief from the SheBelieves Cup in America earlier in the year, if you would excuse the pun. We certainly used the tournament to increase our team spirit and our playing principles. We proved on a world stage that we are getting a better each camp, and that come the Euros in the summer in Holland, we will be a force, especially after beating the USA on their own turf in front of 28,000 people.’
That victory, against a team of the caliber of the USA with star players such as Izzy’s newest Manchester City team-mate and FIFA World Player of the Year Carli Lloyd has only added fuel to the fire for England. The squad, and manager Mark Sampson, is clear in their mission and the challenges of the road to success.
‘Our ambitions for this summer are simply to win. We have no qualms in stating that, but equally we understand that we must manage expectations and be realistic that no matter what shape we arrive at the tournament in, it is going to be difficult. It is our job to go there individually and collectively in the best possible condition to win.’
To use a well-worn football cliché, England can only take the tournament one match at a time – and you need look no further than the Lionesses opening match against Scotland for the pick of the group stages. Scotland, who will play in their first major tournament, feature a number of players from across the Women’s Super League including Kim Little, Caroline Weir and Izzy’s club team mates Jane Ross and Jennifer Beattie.
‘The opening fixture versus Scotland will historically be one that people will turn heads for. The rivalry in rugby, especially, exploits the nature of an England vs Scotland match and I know that our match in the Euros will present the same intense rivalry. It is of course, our responsibility to ensure that England come out on top. You want to win any opening fixture of any major tournament, however it is not a catastrophe if we don’t. However, our preparations for this summer’s tournament are tailored towards winning, and I am certain that if we set up right and focus on the first game, we will do that.’
Winning is a familiar feeling for Christiansen and co. after Manchester City completed a domestic treble with a 4-1 victory over Birmingham City in the FA Cup Final at Wembley in front of a record 35,271 people. A goal in the final in addition to an unbeaten 2016 for City hasn’t tamed Izzy’s ambitions for the year ahead.
‘My hopes are to win trophies. That is much easier said than done, but I believe that I am at one of the best clubs not just in England but in world football at Manchester City and I hope that the hard work that goes in day-to-day will result in further successes domestically.’ City’s recent progression to the semi-finals of the UEFA Women’s Champions League is certainly evidence enough of their claims to being one of the best teams in world football. Their 3-2 aggregate loss to reigning champions Olympique Lyon was a learning experience for a squad in its first season in the Champions League.
Although City were halted on the way to that final, their appearance at Wembley against Izzy’s former club Birmingham City brings things back to the second city and UoB. Captaining UBWFC during her time at Brum is just one thing Manchester City’s number eleven achieved in ‘an amazing three years juggling an athlete-student lifestyle.’ As a ‘very proud graduate of one of the best universities in the country’, Birmingham can take pride in its place in Izzy’s path to the England squad – especially if the Lionesses manage to fulfill their ‘strong sense of belief that we will not just go to Holland to make up numbers, but be in that final’ this summer.