Eniola Aluko column: SheBelieves Cup a bigger test than World Cup

Eniola Aluko
SheBelieves Cup: USA v England
Date: Friday, 4 March (00:30 GMT). Venue: Raymond James Stadium; Tampa Bay, Florida.
Coverage: Live on BBC One

Less than eight months after we ended the World Cup in Canada with a bronze medal around our necks, we are back across the Atlantic for a tournament that in many ways is an even bigger test.

Not only are we facing the top three nations in the world - United States, Germany and France - in the first SheBelieves Cup, but there is also potential for even greater significance.

Firstly, I am on 98 caps so there is a chance that I could reach a very proud milestone.

And because we are the only nation competing not to appear at the Rio Olympics in August, it means this is the biggest international tournament of our season.

After our third place in Canada we are ranked fifth in the world so if you were basing the SheBelieves Cup on rankings alone, then, realistically, we could come back with three straight defeats.

Yet if we can win it, then it will send a huge message to the rest of the world that we belong in this company. It's a challenge the players and manager Mark Sampson will embrace.

SheBelieves Cup fixtures
3 March: Germany v France and US v England (live on the BBC)
6 March: US v France and Germany v England (live on the BBC)
9 March: France v England (live on the BBC) and US v Germany

Although we beat Germany at the World Cup, I'm not sure we are quite there yet, based on the fact that we don't play the top teams consistently enough. Take that third-place play-off out of the equation and the two teams we lost to in Canada - France and Japan - were both ranked above us.

So this is an important stepping stone. Any win at this tournament will be a massive one for us and it's important that we play against nations like this on a regular basis. That is the only way we will be better prepared to win major tournaments in the future.

My only regret is that we won't be joining our competitors in the football Mecca of Rio this summer.

The home nations couldn't agree on sending a Great Britain team but if we worked it out for the London Olympics, I can't understand why it can't be resolved for the Rio Olympics too, even if it means the team has a proportional number of players from each nation.

The Olympics is a huge tournament in the international women's football calendar and competing in Brazil is all about giving players the opportunity to attend the biggest sporting event in the world.

It's just a shame that politics has got in the way. For me, that should never prevent the joy of playing football.

Mark Sampson: SheBelieves Cup bigger challenge than World Cup

More settled as 100 caps milestone looms

The coming season might not involve the pressure of being picked for a major tournament - only the second time since the Women's Super League began in 2011 - but after last season I am a lot more comfortable in how I handle myself when it comes to selections.

With Chelsea we won the WSL and the FA Cup, and I was selected for an England team which finished third at the World Cup for the first time.

Maybe it was because of all we achieved that I've learnt not to put too much pressure on myself. All I can do is perform, the rest is out of my control.

I've been in the England squad 11 years now and it has been challenging at times, but from nowhere I am now two caps short of 100.

If I'm honest, I never ever thought I would get this far. That's not an indictment of my ability but more to do with the life as an international footballer.

All you are looking at is making the next squad. Then the next, and so on. You can never look too far ahead.

My managers - Hope Powell and Mark Sampson - have always challenged me and it's been tough at times, but it was only when Jill Scott recently reached 100 caps in China, that I started to think about it.

When England players reach that milestone, they usually do a speech and having grown up in the England team alongside Jill, a lot of what she said resonated with me. It was very touching.

I don't want to talk about it too much until it's happened, whether it's in America or at a later date, but I'm proud of what I've achieved so far and hope there is plenty more to come.

Leadership in football is priceless

Arsenal hang their heads after losing to Swansea
Arsenal have been criticised for lacking leaders in their team

I'm not the only one facing a potential landmark in the US, my England team-mate Fara Williams is also two caps short of reaching 150.

She is England's most capped player - men or women - and a real leader in the team, which is a quality raised in debates about the most open Premier League title race in years.

Former Liverpool midfielder Graeme Souness was among those who questioned Arsenal's appetite for a genuine title challenge because they lacked leaders, and compared them to the Invincibles side which comprised the likes of Patrick Vieira, Emmanuel Petit and Thierry Henry.

Souness believes that there is no-one in the current Gunners team that can really shake them up when they need it most - as we saw when they lost at Manchester United last Sunday.

There is also an argument to say we are losing that quality a little bit when you see the likes of Liverpool without Steven Gerrard, or Chelsea without Frank Lampard, and come the end of the season, potentially John Terry.

I'm still not sure why Liverpool let Gerrard go, he had something you cannot buy: he wasn't just a leader in the team, but a huge part of the club's culture with a long-established relationship with fans.

Leadership is huge thing to me, but it's not just about screaming and shouting. It's about leading by example, conducting yourself in the right manner after defeat or speaking up when the dressing room is silent.

Leadership can bring a team together, and in the England set-up we have many leaders who can galvanise us.

The ability to be open and honest with each other was one of the qualities that helped us succeed last summer in Canada, and hopefully it can lead us success in the United States over the next week too.

England and Chelsea forward Eniola Aluko was speaking to BBC Sport's Alistair Magowan

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