England will look to their talismanic captain Serena Guthrie to propel them to a first World Cup final on Sunday, with head coach Tracey Neville insisting her leader will “go down in the history books”.
Guthrie has been the standout act for England throughout the tournament, dominating the mid-court with her blend of power and agility as the hosts secured their semi-final spot against New Zealand with relative ease.
A veteran of the last two World Cups, Guthrie was only made captain on the eve of the tournament when regular choice Ama Agbeze was omitted from the squad. She has thrived in the role, throwing herself about the court with trademark abandon and helping England maintain a 100 per cent record in Liverpool.
“Serena was a world-class player before she became captain, but she’s become a leader now,” said Neville. “She’s unique. She’s going to go down in the history books.
“She’s so slight, she’s a breeze that goes through and when she hits the floor she’s got nothing to hurt. It’s like stick hitting the floor. That’s quite normal for her.”
Saturday’s semi-final will see an epic battle at centre where Guthrie will face-off against the vastly experienced figure of Laura Langman, New Zealand’s captain and most capped player in history. It is a prospect even Langman is relishing.
“Oh, she’s amazing,” she said of her opposite number. “I think she looks so fit. She’s the most influential centre in the world.
“And what an occasion to be playing in a semi-final in your home country. It’s going to be a battle.
“The crowd is probably going to play an epic role. Serena loves an event and it’s going to be one.”
After playing six games in seven days, England’s players had a day off at their hotel on Friday, with all members of Neville’s squad taking part in player analysis of their opposite numbers in the New Zealand side.
Having contested the last five World Cup finals, where they played Australia on each occasion, this is familiar territory for New Zealand. The Kiwis have finished outside the top two just twice in 14 World Cups, although they underwent a major rebuilding process after the shock of failing to win a medal at last year’s Commonwealth Games.
Victory for England could set up a rematch of last year’s epic Commonwealth Games gold medal match against Australia, who are expected to triumph over South Africa in Saturday’s other semi-final.