Women's World Cup 2015: Kirby England's mini Messi - Sampson

By Alistair MagowanBBC Sport in Moncton, Canada
Women's World Cup on the BBC
Dates: 6 June - 5 July. Coverage: All games online, selected matches on BBC Two, BBC Three and Red Button. Catch-up via BBC iPlayer. Every England game on BBC Radio 5 live with live text commentary online.

Head coach Mark Sampson described Fran Kirby as a "mini Messi" after her goal set England on their way to a 2-1 win over Mexico in the Women's World Cup.

Kirby, 21, scored in her first start at a major tournament, four years after depression led her to quit the game following her mother's sudden death.

"Special players step up in special moments, there's more to come for her," said Sampson.

Kirby said: "Everything I do is to make mum proud. I'm sure I've done that."

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Kirby is the second-youngest player in England's squad and the only one selected by Sampson from the second tier of the Women's Super League.

When the forward was 14, her mother - who had been a driving force in the early stages of her career - died after a brain haemorrhage. Three years later and struggling to come to terms with the loss, Kirby gave up on football.

But she made a tentative Sunday League comeback with Reading Town Ladies two years ago before going back to the club where she had been since she was a child - Reading FC.

And she reproduced the fine domestic form which earned her a place in the England squad as she showed great composure to put England in front against Mexico.

"It makes everything so much more worth it, coming back and playing," she said. "In the changing room they were saying 'that was your mum there when it hit the post, she was there to make sure it went in' so it's great the girls are so supportive about it."

Kirby, who scored 11 goals in five league matches before the World Cup, said: "It's pretty incredible to be compared to such a great player as Messi.

"I'm really grateful to hear Mark has that much faith in me as a player and trusted me to give me my first World Cup start.

"This time last year, I wasn't even in and around the squad.

"It has been a difficult time for me and my family but now it just motivates me. One of the reasons why I was so happy to score today was knowing the journey I have been on and it shows that coming back into football was the right decision."

England, who doubled their lead through Karen Carney before Fabiola Ibarra's injury-time reply, are level on points with France after the world's third-ranked team suffered a shock 2-0 defeat by Colombia, who now top the group.

With three teams progressing from four of the six groups at the World Cup, a point in their final game against Colombia should ensure England's qualification for the second round.

Group F table

Sampson, 32, earned a first win in his first major tournament in charge and said he was pleased with how his team reacted to France's result earlier in the day at Moncton Stadium.

"We knew it was a crucial day for us," he said. "The France result was such a big shock that we had to handle that extra pressure. If we'd lost we could have been going home and it was great for the players to experience that.

"We looked tight in the first 10 minutes but they showed their maturity, we changed it tactically and we controlled our emotions.

"We still have areas to improve but we have laid some good foundations."


The story of Fran Kirby

Fran Kirby celebrates
Kirby's rise to the top of the women's game has come via an unusual route

Aged seven: Is taken to football training at Reading for the first time

Aged 17: Quits football after battling depression following the death of her mother

Aged 19: Rejoins Reading and scores 33 goals in her first season

How Kirby's love of football returned

Aged 20: Scores on her England debut

Aged 21: Turns professional - first woman to do so at Reading FC

Aged 21: Scores 29 goals in 22 games as Reading finish third in WSL 2

Aged 21: Scores on first World Cup start, against Mexico