Women's World Cup: England 3 Norway 0 - Lionesses roar into semi-final after dominant display
Phil Neville may have finished his playing career with a bagful of medals from his time as a full-back at Manchester United but the England manager has conceded that one of his squad dwarfs his talent in the position.
Not for the first time in this World Cup, Neville shone a light on Lucy Bronze, singling out the Lyon right-back for praise after she capped-off a superb performance in England’s quarter-final win over Norwway with one of the goals of the tournament.
Bronze’s second half rocket made it 3-0 to the Lionesses and confirmed a last four spot where an England side, now bristling in confidence, will take on either France or tournament favourites USA.
Jill Scott had England in front after just three minutes in Le Havre before Ellen White scored her fifth goal of the competition five minites before the break.
Bronze struck in the 57th minute firing in expertly after Beth Mead’s cutback friom a corner to the edge of the box.
It could have been more emphatic for Neville’s team but Nikita Parris missed a penalty for the second time in this tournament.
And England did allow a few too many opportunities to be created by Norway, though Steph Houghton was equal to everything with a gritty and gloriously English central-defensive performance.
The penalty miss and the leaking of chances mattered little, though, on the night and at the end of the match the manager was concentrating on Bronze, who he again descirbed as the ‘best player in the world’.
“We’re where we want to be,” he said. “I think we’ve seen tonight Lucy Bronze is the best player in the world, without a shadow of a doubt – with her athleticism and quality. There’s no player like her in the world. I played full-back but never to that level.
Asked who he fancied in the semi-final, Neville admitted he didn’t care.
“We want to play them both [France and USA], I’m not bothered who we play,” he said. “We’ll go to Lyon, the atmosphere and occasion will be incredible. The players have proved the bigger the occasion, the better we are. We’re having fun.”
The added significance of playing that game in Lyon was not lost on Bronze who plays her football in the city.
“I've been dreaming of getting to the semi-final in Lyon,” said Bronze. “All the passion came out in that strike.
“I was practising that one this morning. I did a few shots like that. Practice makes perfect. I'm excited to be going to Lyon now.
“We'll have to raise our game against France or the USA but we know we can match up against either one of those teams. We can get a rest and watch the rest of the quarter-finals now.”
While Bronze’s was the name of the lips of most who left the stadium, Neville did recognise the team’s display as a whole.
“That was the best they have played under me,” he added. “We keep saying we are having fun and they are playing like it. Yesterday, I knew we were going to win this game because of the look in their eyes and the 11 that didn't play were driving it.
“Some people back off when they get to this stage, and maybe it's an English mentality, but not this group of players. Whether it's this year or next, success will come their way because they are a fantastic bunch.”