It’s been a tough season for an injury-plagued Steph Houghton, but the Manchester City defender finally has reason to smile.
Houghton was among the 28 players selected for England’s provisional squad for Euro 2022, returning to the national team set-up for the first time since September.
With the squad set to be cut to 23 players in mid-June, however, the 34-year-old faces a race against time to prove her fitness.
“Playing for my country is something that I absolutely love doing, and you can never take it for granted,” Houghton told GiveMeSport Women.
“So it’s a step in the right direction. It’s a long way to go in terms of selection, but I’m grateful to be given the opportunity to prove myself over the next couple of weeks.
“There’s a lot of hard work to be done, and for me, it’s just about showing that I can still produce the level of quality that I believe I can at the highest level. The only way I can do that is in training and playing against the girls that I’m competing against.
“It’s been a tough few months, but there’s some light at the end of the tunnel and hopefully I can continue the way that I’ve been going.”
Euro 2022 will be held across nine cities across England, with the hosts considered one of the favourites to win the tournament.
The Lionesses will certainly benefit from the home advantage, particularly because they will be playing in front of sell-out crowds at Old Trafford, St Mary’s Stadium and the Amex Stadium.
“I think we’ve got to use home advantage as much as we possibly can,” Houghton agreed. “The amount of people that are coming to watch England play – it’s going to be pretty special.
“The team’s been in brilliant form over the last six, seven months, and everybody can get excited about that.”
Houghton led England out at the 2015 and 2019 World Cups, and Euro 2017. But Leah Williamson will captain the side at Euro 2022, a decision made by manager Sarina Wiegman.
She’s [Williamson] a top defender,” Houghton said. “She’s doing really well this season and she’s going to be an amazing leader.
“She knows that I’m there to support her however she wants me to support her, whether that’s on the pitch or off the pitch, and to use everything that I’ve done over the last eight to help. I’m going to be her biggest supporter going into the Euros.”
A new Women’s Super League season awaits following the conclusion of Euro 2022. Despite a disappointing start to the last campaign, which saw Manchester City sink as low as ninth place, the side managed to qualify for the Champions League after finishing third.
“When you’re injured, it’s always tough when you can’t really affect things on the pitch and you can’t help,” Houghton revealed. “But there’s other ways to help – being around the girls, supporting them at the games, giving advice.
“Overall, I’m really proud of the girls, especially with how we held ourselves over the last season. There was a lot of criticism at the beginning of the season. Some was a bit harsh, but I think it kind of fuelled our fire in terms of wanting to prove people wrong.
“We knew that we had good quality in the team, and we knew that we could do something really good this season.
“To say that we’ve won a trophy, been to the FA Cup Final which we probably deserved to win, and got the Champions League, I don’t think anybody really expected that.
“So in that sense, I’m really proud of our reaction and we showed really what we’re about, and probably didn’t get as much credit as we deserved, especially in the second half of the season.”
Houghton expects Manchester City to start next season from where they left off, and anticipates the same attitude from her teammates.
“We need to be one of the best teams in this country and we need to be competing with the best, so I think it’s important that we get some time off, the girls go and enjoy the Euros, and come back knowing we’ve got some more work to do once pre-season starts.”
Steph Houghton is an athlete for Lucozade Sport, the nation’s favourite sports drink, and the official hydration partner of all England teams.