Euro 2013 will be England’s fifth major championship in a row following their qualification for the competition last week.
Hope Powell’s side have shown gradual improvement since the first of those five appearances in 2005, with two quarterfinal World Cup spots, and an appearance in the final of Euro 2009 in Finland.
Now I must confess that I didn’t see any of Euro 2005 and only bits of World Cup 2007 due to the time of the kick-offs, but what I noticed about the last few tournaments was the importance of a stable and solid partnership at the back.
Injuries and suspensions have dogged England in the last few competitions, with Faye White fracturing her cheekbone in China and again in Finland, Casey Stoney getting sent off in Finland, and White again going into Germany 2011 with question marks over her match fitness.
In Stoney and current Lincoln teammate Sophie Bradley, England has a pairing that, if they can stay fit and avoid suspension, could bring that quality and stability needed to the side.
The pair have played just one tournament game together for England, which was in the highly impressive win over Japan at the World Cup last year. Following that win, Bradley made way for Captain White, who was always tipped to return for the game against New Zealand.
It should also be noted the pair played together for Team GB at the London Olympics, and before their elimination in the quarterfinals to Canada, they had played three, won three, conceded none.
History suggests, whether a team is male or female, that a stable, continuous centre back pairing gives a good chance of bringing success.
Gerard Piqué and Sergio Ramos started every game for Spain at the European Championships this year, while the US Women’s national team won gold at the London Olympics with Christie Rampone and Rachel Buhler at the heart of their defence for all of their six games.
Going back, the last European Championships in Finland saw Babett Peter and Annike Krahn play every game together for the victorious Germany, while in last year’s World Cup, the Japanese back four started every game together on the way to their shock tournament victory.
In Stoney and Bradley, England has a rare opportunity to build a solid foundation within the back four, with both playing for the same club.
The duo has spent the last two years alongside each other since the formation of the FA Women’s Super League, and their partnership has certainly played a big part in Lincoln Ladies running the likes of Arsenal close in their encounters this year.
For me, a settled central defence is probably the most important area of the pitch – you can score goals and still lose, but if you keep clean sheets, losing isn’t possible.
Stoney and Bradley’s strengths compliment each other, with Stoney the stronger and more experienced, and Bradley the quicker, but no less talented.
Since Faye White’s international retirement, Stoney and Bradley have become Hope Powell’s first choice pairing, playing the majority of the Euro 2013 qualifiers together as England went the whole campaign undefeated.
The one downside is that the two defenders are at opposite ends of their careers.
Stoney turned 30 this year, and while I have no doubt she has a few years left in her, you have to question how many major tournaments the pair will play together.
There are a host of young defenders knocking on the door (Bonner, Whelan, Flaherty, Rose) but dislodging the Lady Imps duo will be a tough challenge.
Stoney has amassed over 100 caps, is England captain and is without doubt one of the most respected players in the England setup, while Bradley has cemented herself as one of England’s best young players in any position.
Lincoln team mate Megan Harris told me months ago she felt she had the best centre back pairing playing behind her in the WSL, and while Lincoln’s position in the league might prompt you to question her, few clubs in the league have two full internationals paired at the back.
Sweden 2013 will be a real test for England with the likes of France and Germany joining hosts Sweden in the competition, but if Stoney and Bradley can continue their developing relationship, they could be the key to bringing future success to the lionesses.