Women’s World Cup 2023: England will be ready for anything – Ellen White column

Ellen White column

This World Cup is England’s first major tournament since the 2009 European Championship where I will be watching rather than playing, but I’m looking forward to it just as much.

I think I did the part where I trained hard and played in all the games for long enough – now I am just really excited to be on the other side, watching and supporting, and being a fan.

I am very lucky to have gone to three World Cups in my career and, after winning last year’s Euros, I felt it was the right time for me to retire .

Almost 12 months on, I feel very content with how I ended my playing days, and with it being my decision to stop.

A composite BBC graphic of Ellen White playing, scoring and celebrating

The past year has been a real whirlwind with the birth of my first daughter in April, and I feel very lucky with the way everything has gone – I don’t want to jinx it but she’s a really good sleeper so I haven’t had the disturbed nights that lots of people warned me about.

Even so, I am still ready for some of the early-morning kick-offs coming over the next few weeks, and she will be watching the games with me, whether I am at home or working for the BBC.

One of the first matches I am covering as a pundit involves a 5am alarm call so I am going to have to wake her up to bring her into the studio with me.

I’ve got my husband, Callum, and my mum and dad to help but I am going to enjoy the experience of having her with me at this World Cup as well – it is another reason it will be very different to what I am used to, but it is going to be a lot of fun.

England’s experience helps deal with expectations

The World Cup is already under way for some teams and the wait is almost over for England too – and I know we will be ready when we get started on Saturday.

I loved tournament football and it was always exciting to arrive in the host country, watch the other teams play and feel the buzz and anticipation grow – but all I really wanted was for our first match to come around.

There are always a lot of nerves around your opening group game, which don’t particularly help – I went to the past six major finals with the Lionesses, and most of the time we started off with quite a scrappy performance, compared to what we were capable of.

That doesn’t matter, though, as long as you win. We didn’t play anywhere near our best when we began last year’s Euros against Austria at Old Trafford, for example, but we didn’t really care because we got the three points to set us on our way.

It will be exactly the same against Haiti in Brisbane this weekend – the result is all that matters.

I am hoping Millie Bright will be fit enough to start, even if she only plays 45 minutes, because she is such a key cog in England’s wheel. Having that stability at the back, and her voice and leadership, will be vital in settling everyone down straight away.

It’s a tricky game because we are such strong favourites – Haiti are one of the lowest-ranked teams at the World Cup and have got absolutely nothing to lose, so they can just sit 11 players behind the ball.

I’ve faced plenty of opponents like that with England, and if you don’t score an early goal then, as the minutes tick away, it starts creeping into your mind how much you need to score, and how you really should be beating them.

It would be nice to avoid all that this time but I won’t be worried if do we have to wait, because we have got more than enough experience in this group of players to cope with any setbacks and understand what we need to do to get the result we want.

There are bigger tests to come, of course, but that outlook will remain the same over the next few weeks.

Fifa women's world rankings

We are the European champions so expectations are high, and there are plenty of people who will want to knock us off our pedestal, so we have to deal with it.

From the outside, there is lots of pressure on these players to succeed but I know from being part of the squad that, internally, the manager and her staff will be taking all that pressure off them.

Sarina Wiegman creates a very calm environment within the group, which is exactly what is required for England to have another successful tournament.

I am going to be in Sydney for the final whether England are there or not, but that’s the dream and we are definitely capable of it.

If we do make it that far I will probably scrap wearing a suit and go along in full England kit – it would be such an amazing day!

‘Number nines need momentum’

When I retired, I said it was time to say goodbye and watch the next generation shine for England, and hopefully that will happen at this tournament, right from the start.

We don’t know yet whether Alessia Russo, Rachel Daly or someone else will lead our attack against Haiti but, whoever it is, I hope they get up and running with a goal straight away.

As a former England number nine, I know how important it is for your centre-forward to get off the mark early in the tournament, not just for your own self-belief but for the confidence of the whole team.

You can play with freedom when the goals are flowing, rather than having to put up with the talk of ‘she is not scoring’, when there are so many other things that are part of playing in that position.

Before last year’s Euros, I was getting hammered because I hadn’t scored for three games – that’s right, three. It doesn’t even matter if you are playing well, because you are only judged on how many goals you get.

So, whoever our striker is, I’d love them to get an early chance against Haiti and take it, just to give them that momentum to take into their next few games, because they will need it.

There is a lot of pressure that goes with being England’s centre-forward, so I always did my best to help other strikers when they came into the squad.

With Alessia, when she was first called up in 2020 I just wanted her to have the time of her life, to come in and just feel like she belonged and that everyone wanted her to do well, basically.

I wanted her to feel like she could express herself and play without any kind of fear, because I know how scary it is to come into a senior international side.

I have messaged her a number of times since I retired and she knows I am fully behind her and have got her back. I just want her to show her true self on this stage, really, because I know how hard it can be.

Ellen White was speaking to BBC Sport’s Chris Bevan.

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