Bronze helps England beat Norway to reach World Cup semis
LE HAVRE, France (AP) — As England practiced a set-piece routine hours before facing Norway, defender Lucy Bronze was determined to apply the finishing touch.
“I’ll hit it tonight,” Bronze told coach Phil Neville, “because I’ll score.”
She certainly did, sealing a 3-0 victory on Thursday night after helping set up the first two goals to get England into its second straight Women’s World Cup semifinal.
After first-half goals from Jill Scott and Ellen White, Bronze’s chance came in the 57th minute.
With England preparing to take a free kick on the left side, Norway was expecting it to be swung into the penalty area. But Beth Mead hit Bronze, who was at the edge of the penalty area alone, and the right back connected, raising the ball high into the roof of the net with a fierce shot.
“We worked on that set play and Keira Walsh should have been hitting,” Neville said.
But the coach listened to Bronze.
“We have seen the space was there and then I just had the ball right,” Bronze said, “It was going to go in the back of the net and thankfully it did.”
It showed why Neville has such faith in the right back, who plays for Lyon — the site of the semifinals and final.
“What you have seen tonight is that Lucy Bronze is the best player in the world,” Neville said. “There is no player like her in the world, no player who has her athleticism and quality. I played full back but never to that level she played at.”
Nodding in approval from the stands was David Beckham, who high-fived Sue Campbell, the head of women’s soccer in England.
While Beckham never made it past a quarterfinal as a player for the England men’s team, the Lionesses are now in their third successive semifinal after also making the final four at the 2017 European Championship.
“That gave them a sense over how special the performances have been,” Neville said.
England is now two games away from winning its first major women’s title.
“I said to them in the huddle, ‘Are you ready to win a World Cup?’” Neville said.
After finishing third at the last tournament four years ago, England will now face either France or the United States on Tuesday.
The first goal came after only two minutes and nine seconds in front of a crowd of more than 21,000. Bronze muscled her way down the right flank before cutting the ball back. White missed a shot but Jill Scott was primed to strike in off the post.
White did get her fifth goal of the tournament in the 40th minute. Played in by Bronze, Nikita Parris hit White racing between the Norway center backs to receive the pass and sweep it into the net.
“We’re playing a type of (women’s) football no other team has played before,” Neville said. “They have glazed eyes, I can see that. I’m lucky. I’m just the coach. They go out and play with courage, bravery, play the right way. We’ve said it’s nonnegotiable. We’re having fun and we don’t want to go home.”
The support from home is growing.
A video message from retired rowing champion Katherine Grainger, Britain’s most decorated female Olympian, was played in the team meeting attended by Beckham.
“It gave you goosebumps,” Neville said, “about what it takes to win.”
A virus made the path to victory in Stade Océan more difficult.
Despite a concerning medical update from Neville on the eve of the game about Millie Bright’s illness, she made the starting lineup.
So did her central defensive partner Steph Houghton, who was doubtful after sustaining an ankle injury in the round of 16 victory over Cameroon.
The victory margin could have been greater had Parris not had a penalty kick saved. After netting from the spot in the opening game against Scotland, she was also denied against Argentina in the group stage.
Neville has no qualms about keeping her on penalty duty.
“She is our best taker,” Neville said. “She will be beating herself up for not scoring but shouldn’t.”