Captain Steph Houghton is confident England Women will avoid the mistakes that brought the Hope Powell era to a chaotic end when they return to the European Championship stage this summer.
Monday marks a month to go before England’s Euro 2017 opener against Scotland in Utrecht, and the squad are in camp applying the finishing touches to tournament preparations.
Defender Houghton has her eyes on the trophy, four years after she went to Sweden for Euro 2013 as a rank-and-file member of a squad that flopped.
An instinctive leader, she inherited the captaincy from Casey Stoney soon after that tournament, where England picked up just one point and failed to get out of their group.
Manager Powell lost her job following 15 years in charge of the national team, and current boss Mark Sampson was selected as her successor. The Sampson-Houghton leadership combination then led the Lionesses to third place at the 2015 World Cup in Canada.
Yet memories of the botched mission to Sweden four years ago remain vivid, and Houghton said: “For us, 2013 was a disappointing experience and a lot of the players we’re taking to Holland were in that group as well.
“For us, it can only be a positive in the sense we would never want to repeat that again. On and off the pitch, we didn’t perform well and we didn’t get that balance between switch-off and switch-on.
“That’s something we’ll be taking into this tournament, to be able to make sure we keep the players as happy as we possibly can and hope it reflects on the football pitch.”
Houghton, 29, told Press Association Sport: “It’ll be my second tournament as captain, and every time I pull on the England shirt and wear the armband and lead these girls out it’s always a special moment. It doesn’t get much bigger than the European Championship and hopefully we can go on and enjoy it.”
More than merely savouring the ride though, England have reached a level where they can target Germany’s crown as queens of the continent. Germany have won seven out of the eight women’s European Championships staged, including the last six.
England, whose group also contains Spain and Portugal, are confident about their chances and Houghton is unafraid of setting high performance targets.
“For me there’s no doubt we can be challengers at the European Championship,” said Houghton, who skippered Manchester City to Women’s FA Cup glory last month at Wembley.
“We haven’t really set a target and I know it’s a bit of a cliche but it’s always about taking each game at a time, making sure the squad’s as fit as it can be, and being able to perform in each of those games.
“But you know what? We do want to go on and win the tournament, and we need to be able to really enjoy that pressure and put on performances over the five or six games in the 21 days that we have over there.”
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