I had the chance to speak to England's Ellen White prior to today's World Cup game against Japan. Here's what she had to say...
It’s a big season for anyone—signing for the dominant force in domestic football, playing a crucial role in a Champions League campaign and then heading off to the World Cup.
Ellen White, the 22-year-old England centre forward, is dealing with her rapid ascent to the top echelons of international football with ease and grace, just as she copes with battling centre halves.
During Arsenal’s Champions League run, White led the line with aplomb, impressing with her ability to hold the ball up and her presence in the box—despite the fact that at 5'7", she’s not the tallest No. 9 out there. She is a traditional English centre forward of the old school, a description she is flattered to accept.
"That’s very nice!" she said. "Yeah, I think it is [a fair definition of my game]—working hard for the team, getting the ball, work-rate, trying to score goals."
And like all the best old-school centre forwards, tracking back and playing a role in the middle of the defence is also a key part of her game. It was highlighted to great effect against New Zealand on Friday, when centre half Faye White and central midfielder Jill Scott pushed up to add their height to the attack in the second half as England chased an equaliser and then a winner.
"I enjoy working for the team, I enjoy the defending part and the attacking part," she said. "It did feel like I was doing a lot of running, but it was good for the team—as long as we’re defending well, we can obviously counter as well and catch them on the break."
That’s what England managed to do on Friday, coming back from an 18th-minute Sarah Gregorius goal—"That shook us a bit," White admitted—to win 2-1 and effectively secure a place in the quarterfinals. They have made a relatively slow start to the tournament, turning in a disappointing performance to Mexico, and only showing glimmers of their abilities against New Zealand.
"I just think we need to relax a bit more, just trust our abilities, really," White said.
Hope Powell claimed after the New Zealand game that she doesn’t get nervous watching her team. She may be the only one—like all England teams of recent memory, this side have shown a penchant for doing things the hard way.
"It’s true! I don’t know why we do it," White said. "Hopefully it won’t be the same against Japan; I think our mums and dads will have grey hair by the end of the tournament.
"[Powell] always says she trusts us, she knows how much ability and talent we have, and she’s always saying that and bigging us up—not too much—but she’s always really nice, and it’s obviously good to have a coach that’s so relaxed," White said. "If she was fretting about and running around that would translate onto the pitch and we’d be going crazy as well. It’s nice having a calming influence on the sidelines."
Powell will have her nerves tested on Tuesday, though. Japan, ranked fourth in the world, have been impressive during the tournament so far, beating New Zealand and Mexico with an incisive combination of dead-ball trickery and neat close-range passing to feet.
"I think their main attributes are technically being very gifted on the ball, working in triangles up and down the pitch. They’re keen runners," White said.
"It’s not so much about them flying in tackles, it’s more about them on the ball and keeping possession and scoring a lot of goals. They seem to be a very small side who score a lot of headers—they have brilliant technical players when they get the ball in the box,so we’ll be focusing on that and hopefully preventing them from scoring. At all. That would be good!"