Millie Bright’s breakthrough with the Lionesses may have surprised a few – but not former England forward Sue Smith.
The 23-year-old, who only earned her first senior cap last September, has started both of England’s Group D triumphs at the European Championships in the Netherlands – a 6-0 win over Scotland and 2-0 victory against Spain.
Defender Bright is more used to operating in midfield but Smith, who was a team-mate of the Chelsea player at Doncaster Rovers Belles, is thrilled to have seen her grasp her opportunity.
“She was my player of the match from the Spain game” said Smith. “Everything she did was simple, effective – I think she won every single header. Spain were trying to get the ball out wide and get good deliveries into the box, and when you’ve got Steph Houghton and Millie, who are so good in the air, you just think: ‘why would you even try and do that?’ Millie just dominated. She scored a goal which should have stood – she was onside and the referee got that one wrong – and it should have been her first international goal, a fantastic header.
“She’s also dangerous from set-pieces but she’s crucial for them defensively. She’s shown absolutely no fear. This is her first major tournament that she’s started in and she just seems to have fitted in to that back line seamlessly.”
Smith added: “She’s being led by Steph, helping her out, but I thought she was great. I’m really pleased for her, just because she’s a player that works so hard and deserves an opportunity, and she’s taken it.”
While a hamstring injury has hampered ex-England skipper Casey Stoney’s involvement, Bright has still been keeping a number of experienced internationals out of Sampson’s starting line-up.
Smith believes that is reason enough to celebrate Bright’s superb maiden major championship campaign so far.
“It’s all about taking opportunities as a player and that’s exactly what she’s done,” said the 37-year-old, who was capped 93 times by her country.
“When you look at the players that are on the bench; Casey Stoney is a quality centre-half, Laura Bassett is a quality centre-half, Jo Potter – these are top players that she’s keeping on the bench.
“It just shows, firstly, how highly Mark Sampson rates her and secondly, how she’s taken that chance.
“I’m really pleased for her.”
England need just a point from their final group game against Portugal on Thursday to progress to the quarter-finals as they look to become the first senior side to win a major trophy since 1966.
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