England captain Steph Houghton is hoping the Lionesses’ run to the semi-finals of the World Cup can help inspire a generation of girls to start playing football.
Saturday night’s 2-1 win over Canada meant Mark Sampson’s side became the first England team to reach the semi-finals of a World Cup since the men did it in Italy in 1990.
The women’s side now face reigning champions Japan on Wednesday for a place in the final and Houghton – who hails from South Hetton – is hopeful that, regardless of the result of that game, more girls will be encouraged to take up the game.
“We all mention the Olympics and how much of a watershed moment that was for women’s football in England,” she said.
“Playing at Wembley and getting 70,000 fans to watch us beat Brazil was a massive moment but the fact that we’re making history and we made history the other day, we made history again, it just shows how much people have got supporting us back at home.
“We always said that we had one aim when we came here, that was to inspire and I think, hopefully, if the mums and dads have let their young girls watch the game late tonight in England I think, hopefully, we’ve got a lot of young girls playing football at an early age and in the next few years we have a stronger English national team.
“That’s the ultimate aim and to keep growing the game. Hopefully, we’ve inspired them girls to do that tonight.”
Quickfire first-half goals from Jodie Taylor and former Sunderland star Lucy Bronze put England in control against the hosts and, while Canada’s star striker Christine Sinclair pulled one back shortly before half-time, England had an impressive rearguard after the interval and never really seemed in danger of conceding again at a packed out BC Place in Vancouver.
Japan are ranked two places above England in FIFA’s rankings while the other semi-final between Germany and the United States sees the two top-ranked teams in the world go head-to-head.
That would appear to make England the underdogs to claim ultimate glory but former Sunderland Ladies ace Houghton just wants her side to keep doing what they have so far.
“We’ve been on a big journey from when Mark took over in the last 18 months and it all came down to this game,” she said.
“Everybody ran themselves into the ground, there was a lot of pressure on us from the crowd, from the supporters, and to go and play under that pressure and come away with a victory and be in the semi-final of the World Cup.
“(I am) Just absolutely delighted for everybody involved with England today.”
She added: “If you look at this tournament, we played Mexico and Colombia and obviously we’re higher ranked then them so I think we’ve experienced both now in terms of being expected to win and playing a bit of the underdog.
“We treat every game as it comes and we know that it’s going to be a massive game on Wednesday against Japan and we’ve got to respect them, obviously they’re world champions for a reason.
“Now it’s all about recovering. Obviously enjoying this moment tonight but then we travel to Edmonton and we focus on trying our best to get into a final.”