The SheBelieves Cup is back tonight as England try to defend the crown they famously won last year. The invitational four-team tournament will begin for Phil Neville’s Lionesses with a game against the current world champions the United States, who narrowly beat England in the World Cup semi-final last year. Revenge would be sweet.
The SheBelieves Cup is now entering its fifth year and was started by the USWNT in the run-up to the 2015 World Cup, which they also won. However, this is far from any other football competition. The SheBelieves movement spreads a message of empowerment and believing in yourself, positivity which allows young fans to see these players as role models.
Every year, a SheBelieves Hero is chosen via a vote, where a non-footballing hero is celebrated. This year, that honour falls to Semahj Ware, a 14-year-old with a huge heart. From Kansas City, she volunteers every day at a local early learning centre for children in poverty. Her story shows her perseverance and positivity after her mother was killed in a car crash and she is a perfect example of what makes the SheBelieves Cup so special.
As she has been voted the 2020 SheBelieves Hero she will receive travel, tickets and a behind the scenes experience with the USWNT before they face Spain on March 8 at the Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey. A shining light of this fantastic competition.
An interesting aspect of the football side of the tournament is the fact that games are paired together and played back-to-back in the same stadium. Spain take on Japan in the opener at the Expoloria Stadium tonight before the two big guns go head-to-head straight after, as the hosts take on the Lionesses in a rematch of that tense World Cup semi-final. England’s game kicks off at midnight and will be shown on BBC Two in the UK.
Phil Neville’s squad includes three uncapped players, as well as seven graduates from the under 20s who won bronze at the World Cup in 2018. The former Manchester United defender could throw these young guns in at the deep end and was quick to point out that they were not here to make up the numbers.
"The message that I want to send out is that these players have to play in the best and biggest games. There will be young players that either start or definitely take part in the game,” he told BBC Sport.
"It would be weak of me as a manager to not play them in the biggest occasions."
That World Cup semi-final defeat still hurts for England. They matched their illustrious opponents over 90 minutes, had a goal disallowed for offside and missed a late penalty - it just wasn’t their day. The best player in the world in 2019 and winner of the Ballon d’Or Feminine, Megan Rapinoe, will be hoping to play a key part in England’s downfall once more and knows that the Lionesses will be hoping to avenge that result.
"We're the ones that have the number one on our backs and the big target but we understand that every team is gunning for us. It's one of their biggest games of the year," the two-time World Cup winner told the BBC.
"We know who our toughest rivals are. The World Cup semi-final was a close game. I think it was decided by a long toenail."
Neville’s side have been in poor form since that gutting defeat. They have won just two of their past seven games while the hosts have won 11 of their last 12. It will be a huge upset if England can pull this off, but then again, they managed it this time last year.
On the pitch, the footballers will go head-to-head tonight but the message of positivity and empowerment is something that unites the entire sport.