Mary Earps: Why England would not be in first Women’s World Cup final without their No 1 | Football News

England would not have reached their first Women’s World Cup final without the brilliance of Mary Earps.

It may sound like an over-exaggeration or even an obvious statement to some, but anyone who has watched England at the tournament so far will know how imperious she has been.

The Lionesses have not played their best at this tournament, a fact they are well aware of and continue to improve upon. But when errors have been made, Earps has been key in keeping England in games at vital moments.

It must also be said that England’s new-look back three of Millie Bright, Alex Greenwood and Jess Carter have all had a great tournament so far too. Greenwood in particular has made the most interceptions (13), had the highest number of completed passes (505) and the most touches of the ball (686) of any player at the World Cup so far.

The trio have played together in different combinations at club and country level and after a few nervous moments at the start, have come into their own when called upon.

Mary Earps

But as they will likely tell you themselves – for them to do their jobs well as defenders, they need to have confidence in the goalkeeper behind them. And in Earps, they have one of the world’s best.

So far, the Manchester United goalkeeper has conceded three goals in six games. One came from the penalty spot against China and another a pile-driving hit from Australia’s Sam Kerr in the semi-final, which no goalkeeper could stop.

Perhaps the only minor blot on her tournament was Leicy Santos’ superb goal in the quarter-finals. Earps could not quite position herself quickly enough to keep the effort from brushing her fingertips.

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But Earps went on to offer a timely reminder of her quality and importance. An acrobatic, one-handed save to deny Lorena Bedoya in the second half kept Colombia from an equaliser, and we have seen her pull out at least one magical moment in nearly every game.

Melchie Dumornay and Roselord Borgella in the second half against Haiti. Katrine Veje’s corner for Denmark. Ashleigh Plumptre and Asisat Oshoala against Nigeria, where Earps was rightly crowned Player of the Match.

A lesser talent may not have made such tournament-saving stops, especially on almost every occasion they were called upon. Her consistency has been a shining light when the Lionesses have sometimes scrambled in the dark.

There have been plenty more saves and parries that may not be as camera-friendly, but are equally as vital. The semi-final against Australia a key example where there were fewer standout moments, but important stops made nonetheless.

Along with a little bit of luck – both Denmark and Nigeria hit the post, the Super Falcons doing so twice – Earps’ rapid reflexes, acrobatic-like agility, confidence in reading both the flight of ball and the game overall are just some of the qualities that have carried England into the finals.

Mary Earps makes a save mid-way through the second half
Mary Earps has made a number of acrobatic saves during the World Cup, helping to guide England into the final

And of course, this is her job. She is the FIFA Best Women’s Goalkeeper and by that token, should be the best player at the tournament to stop balls going into the back of the net.

She also won the WSL’s Golden Glove last season for the first time, keeping 14 clean sheets for Manchester United. Overall, she became the first WSL goalkeeper to keep 50 clean sheets in the league.

But despite the personal accolades, it is on the pitch, in the big moments England are now facing, where it really matters.

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While her on-field contributions have been key, Earps is part of the Lionesses’ leadership group as vice-captain and is a reassuring presence for the players in front of her. She openly celebrates the personal and collective wins and is vocal in guiding and encouraging her team-mates.

Beyond the pitch, Earps brings her vibrant personality to the squad, keeping spirits high while the Lionesses are so far from home. Let’s not forget, she was the player who stood on the press conference table in celebration after England won the Euros last summer, with the moment going viral. Not unusual for the Lionesses’ Queen of TikTok.

Mary Earps is part of the England's leadership team, and is vice-captain alongside current interim captain Millie Bright
Mary Earps is part of the England’s leadership team, and is vice-captain alongside current interim captain Millie Bright

While TikTok analysis will be left to those more in-the-know, in every other aspect Earps is executing her role to near perfection.

With all of this being said, it continues to be baffling how her goalkeeping jersey is not available for purchase. Earps has called the situation “hurtful” and explained how her family and friends have not been able to wear her shirt in support.

“For my own family and friends and loved ones not to be able to buy my shirt, I know that sounds like ‘oh Mary, what a horrible problem’, but on a personal level that is really hard,” she said.

“I have been trying to go through the correct channels as much as possible, which is why I have not spoken on it publicly.

“There has been an incredible rise in goalkeeping participation… I can’t really sugar-coat this in any way, so I am not going to try. It is hugely disappointing and very hurtful.”

Over 37,000 people have now signed a petition calling for the shirt to be sold publicly. To add even more context to a ludicrous decision, Earps’ goalkeeping jersey for Manchester United sold out last season.

Mary Earps is beaten by Leicy Santos (not pictured) to make it 1-0 to Colombia
Mary Earps has only been beaten three times in the tournament, including Leicy Santos’ fine strike for Colombia

“It did tickle me that I’ve got to say,” Earps later added. “I know that it is being looked into by the relevant parties at various levels and it will be a conversation that we pick up post-tournament.

“But I just want to thank everyone for their support on that.”

But it is not the first time Earps has faced a challenge in her career. Her rise to the top of the game is even more stunning given that just two years ago, she had considered her chances of being in another major tournament squad to be largely over.

She was part of England’s 2019 World Cup squad, but did not make an appearance. Earps felt like her time had passed – that was until Sarina Wiegman took over.

Earps told The Telegraph in April 2022: “I was resigned to the fact that [going to the Euros] would never happen all the way up until I got an email saying I was going to be picked for the September camp. I never thought this would ever happen.

Mary Earps was recalled into the England squad under Sarina Wiegman, and has been her starting No1 ever since
Mary Earps was recalled into the England squad under Sarina Wiegman, and has been her starting No 1 ever since

“Then, when I got invited to that camp, I just thought ‘OK, this is nice, thank you, I’m going to go and give my absolute best’, but back then, the Euros was too far away.

“I really was at peace, when we had that conversation a year ago. Everything I said then was so genuine and I am still so surprised that it changed, because I was so OK with what had been and done, but I’m very, very glad that it changed.”

While England are also glad she did not hang up her international gloves, Earps’ standout performances are indicative of a larger trend at the World Cup where goalkeepers are proving to be the heroes.

Sweden ‘keeper Zecira Musovic’s incredible display against the USA saw the reigning champions knocked out in the round of 16. She picked up the Player of the Match award for her performance too.

Sophia Smith is denied by goalkeeper Zecira Musovic
Zecira Musovic incredible display for Sweden against the USA saw her awarded Player of the Match

Jamaica’s Becky Spencer has also earned the same accolade, coming in Jamaica’s goalless draw against Brazil in their second group game, with the Reggae Girlz eventually reaching the last 16 for the first time.

“I personally love to see when goalkeepers are doing well,” Earps said of the standard of goalkeeping at the World Cup.

“I hope they are praising the goalkeepers because I think the performances have been fantastic and they deserve a lot of credit.

“There’s still many games to go and hopefully those performances can continue so we’re in a good place as a goalkeeping group at the end of the tournament.”

In the immediate future however, there is the small matter of a World Cup final against Spain – a position England are in due in large part to Earps’ incredible displays thus far.

Earps was in goal in the Euro 2022 quarter-final, where Spain were beaten by the Lionesses in extra time. Esther Gonzalez’s goal was the first she had conceded at that tournament, with a little bit of personal revenge surely on her mind.

Earps has arguably developed her game even further over the last year – she certainly comes with more international pedigree a few winners’ medals to boot. There is a lot to be said for form and confidence, both of which Earps currently has in abundance.

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Credit too must go to Wiegman for bringing her back into the fold, as well as her coaches at Manchester United for aiding her development.

But one thing is for certain – if England do win their first ever World Cup title, Earps must be given the praise and thanks she deserves. The Lionesses would simply not have had as much success over the last few years without her.

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