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2023 Women’s World Cup: England manager Sarina Wiegman on the secrets of the team’s success

<i>Alex Grimm/Getty Images/File</i><br/>Wiegman was the head coach of the Netherlands before joining England in 2021.
Alex Grimm/Getty Images/File
Wiegman was the head coach of the Netherlands before joining England in 2021.

By Amanda Davies and Ben Church, CNN

(CNN) — After triumphing at the Women’s Euros in 2022, England will go into this year’s Women’s World Cup as one of the favorites to win the tournament.

The team is brimming with world-class players, such as Barcelona’s Lucy Bronze and Keira Walsh, and possesses one of the most diligent international coaches in the game.

Since Sarina Wiegman took charge of the Lionesses in September 2021, the squad has transformed into something of a juggernaut.

England have won 26 of the 32 games during her reign and have only lost once – a friendly against Australia in April.

It’s an astonishing record that also includes winning Euro 2022, but in an interview with CNN Sport’s Amanda Davies, Wiegman was cautious of the high expectations surrounding her team heading into this year’s World Cup.

“It’s very unpredictable and yes, of course, we’re one of the favorites because we’re the European champions,” the 53-year-old said, adding that life changed for the players after the memorable victory at Wembley Stadium in London.

“We have done really well over the last year, but I think it’s very, very hard.

“I think there are many, many contenders and I think we are one of them. We’re just trying to be at our best level, and yes, we have a dream.

“Of course, we don’t go there just to play a tournament. We go there, of course, to win it just like the other countries. And we’ll see what happens. We take it game by game.”

England starts its World Cup campaign against Haiti on July 22, before facing Denmark and China in its other group stage matches.

Should it navigate the first hurdle and progress into the knockout stages, Wiegman’s side will find itself facing much sterner tests.

The United States Women’ National Team (USWNT) may have had a mixed build-up to the tournament – including a friendly defeat against England in 2022 – but Wiegman is very aware of the threat posed by the reigning champion.

The USWNT has won the last two World Cup titles and knocked England out of the semifinals in 2019.

“I think the US will always show up. They’ve shown it in history,” Wiegman said.

“It’s very impressive what they’ve done, and I think so many countries have caught up in that too, so for them it’s really becoming harder and harder.

“They have this mentality […] I’m not very close at the moment to the team, but I expect them to be really good when the World Cup starts.”

Despite the ever-present threat from the USWNT and other European rivals such as Germany, France and the Netherlands, England will feel confident about its chances of winning its first women’s World Cup title.

Few teams are as free-scoring as England and, after winning Euro 2022, they have senior players experienced in lifting big trophies on the international stage.

While the players’ abilities speak for themselves, Wiegman has helped to instill a formidable mindset in the group through some “non-negotiable” philosophies.

“I think in a team you always have to do your best,” she said. “That doesn’t mean you always have to run the fastest. That’s something different.

“It’s doing what’s best for the team and what’s demanded of you, on and off the pitch.

“When you start doing things on your own in a team sport, that’s really hard. You’re not going to reach the highest potential.”

There were signs of Wiegman’s future development into a world-class, widely respected coach from early in her career as a player.

The Dutchwoman played over 100 times for her country, eventually captaining the national side.

Due to the state of women’s football at the time, she balanced her club career at Dutch side Ter Leede with work as a physical education teacher.

But she found her calling in management, slowly working up the ranks before leading the Netherlands to European Championship glory in 2017.

Her move to England was highly anticipated, but she says she’s just grateful to still be part of the women’s game while it’s witnessing such a boost in popularity.

“I would never expect we would be here, where we are right now,” she added, speaking about the growth of the women’s game.

“There’s still steps to take, lots of steps to take, but the improvements and the things that have become so much better, it’s just incredible to be part of.”

Like the 31 other coaches heading to the tournament in Australia and New Zealand, Wiegman is putting the final touches to her preparations.

If England is to win the Women’s World Cup for the first time, she will have to find a way to do so without captain Leah Williamson and goalscorer Beth Mead, who are both out with ACL knee injuries.

With the squad for the tournament already announced, the coach is hoping for no more distractions in the run-up to the Lionesses’ opening game but is conscious of not piling too much pressure on herself or the team.

“It depends on the time of the year, [but] when big decisions need to be made, yeah, then I have the pencil next to my bed,” she said, explaining her process for planning big tournaments.

“I’m trying to do a better job to switch off a little more, but I think that’s also part of the job and also who I am.

“I’m always thinking about things and overthinking a little bit sometimes. But you want to make right decisions and you want to do the best.”

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