A year or so ago, as the Lionesses left for the USA for the SheBelieves Cup, there was a real sense of purpose about the trip. It felt like a gathering wave of momentum was driving England’s group of players on a journey toward the World Cup in France. SheBelieves was the perfect pit stop on that wave (alright, stretching the metaphor a bit here) to pause, take stock and see exactly how far the team had come in their quest to become the best in the world.

The answer, it turned out, was a long way. Some brilliant goals against Brazil, a formidable defensive performance against the US and a demolition of Japan earned a first trophy for Phil Neville, and a first international trophy for this particular team to savour.

2019 SheBelieves Cup - England v Japan

A perfect surge of energy was created, across three matchdays in three cities, with just a few months to go until the big one. In the end though, the 50/50-winning, tea-sipping, world-defeating USWNT were just a little bit too much in that ‘big one’ in July. 

For those who can bear to think back, the Lionesses were just 12 yards away from levelling the World Cup semi-final at 2-2, with all the momentum going into the last ten minutes in Lyon. Had the Lionesses nicked a goal, they could very well be world champions now.

It doesn’t do to dwell, and just eight months on, this SheBelieves tournament takes on a completely different complexion. The tournament remains the same (well, except one of the teams) but this time England will be looking for perspective on where they're at, with a chance to bring some fresh energy in, recalibrate and course-correct a little in the build up to Euro 2021.

Once again, the USWNT will be the benchmark to measure the Lionesses against, albeit a full 18 months out from a European Championship on home soil. For some in this squad, SheBelieves will also serve as an opportunity to work their way into Neville’s plans for the Olympics this summer. 

It’s this ability to use SheBelieves as a litmus test that makes the tournament so useful. It’s very rare to find an international tournament that drives a competitive edge that is comparable to the World Cup, the Olympics or the Euros, whilst at the same requiring only 12 days to complete. 

That might sound like a little too much weight's being put on what is essentially a 'friendly' tournament, but those who watched the intensity of England’s 2-2 draw with the US this time last year would tell you that it carried a similar intensity to their World Cup meet a few months later.

The tournament simulates some of the aspects of a World Cup, for example, in the way the teams move from place to place. Never being settled in one location for too long means you feel as if you are on tour. 

That comes with the caveat that you also never feel too far from the journey home. There’s the exciting build up to every matchday, and the pyrotechnics that come with playing matches in the USA too. In the summer, the Lionesses played in front of a packed out, loud crowd in the World Cup semi-final – and they'll get a similar feeling come Thursday night, as they face off against the USWNT in front of 25,000 people.

England v USA: Semi Final - 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France

This is an opportunity for some to start their Lionesses career, for some to gain some revenge for last July, and for some to ensure their name is front and centre for Euro 2021 without big-time tournament baggage. It's hard not to be excited.