England Women have looked the part all the way through this World Cup, and if anything have improved as the tournament progressed. Eleven goals scored to only one conceded from old enemy Scotland’s Claire Emslie in their opening match is testimony, as is the way they dealt with knock-out opponents, naughty Cameroon and Norway. Each were despatched by 3-0.
The USA are the USA. Always the team to beat at any tournament they enter, and the 2019 World Cup is no different. They overcame a tepid France, which decided to play too late in their quarter-final meeting, and had problems with Spain in the Round of 16, only prevailing after Donald’s new friend, Megan Rapinoe, scored two penalties, the award of the second being as soft as it gets.
Spain’s press in that game unsettled the American back-four, which gave away an equalizer in uncustomary fashion. This will not have gone unnoticed of course by Phil Neville, and provides encouragement for England’s joint-top tournament scorer, Ellen White.
Neville was so sure he would have to beat the US at some stage if his country were to win the World Cup, he’s been planning for this meeting since he took the job.
”We’ve planned for it, we’ve played against them and we know how we’re going to play,” Neville told BBC Sport.
”When it was France or USA in the semi-final every one of my players said: ‘Let’s hope it’s USA.’
”When I got the job [in January 2018], the first three games I looked at were the USA. I was sitting in my house in Valencia and watched three games in one afternoon because I thought: ‘How can we win the World Cup?’
”You have to beat the best, and the USA are the best. They’ve proven it.
”But we’re ready for them. Sometimes, before these games, you can have fear and trepidation - but I can smell nothing but freedom, happiness and excitement.”
England’s quarter-final victory over Norway was watched by a record-breaking UK television audience (for a women’s game), 7.6 million cheering them on.
The USA are in totally familiar territory. A semi-final, they’ve never failed to reach this stage at any World Cup, and having their world supremacy challenged by a new pretender.
Both sides have been preparing in a heatwave transcending France, although temperatures are likely to be a little cooler in time for kick-off at 8pm, local time. A capacity crowd of 57,900 is assured at Parc Olympique Lyonnais, which hosted the 2018 Europa League Final between Atletico Madrid and Marseille.
You consider if over-confidence in the England camp may be their undoing. The noises emerging, Neville himself said, that losing in the semi-finals now would be considered failure, and star right-back, Lucy Bronze claims England will make it because, “... they are the hungriest of all four semi-finalists,” make you wonder.
The USA have quietly gone about their business in the tried, trusted and proven way of so many times previously.
But they must also know that in England this is likely to be their most formidable challenge as they hope to retaining their championship.
A key battle, if not THE key battle, is sure to be Rapinoe on the left against Bronze on England’s left. Whichever girl comes out on top in this one, could determine the direction of the match. Phillip Neville calls Bronze the best player in the world.
The English have never reached a World Cup Final, in fact they’ve never ever knocked out a higher ranked nation in the history of the tournament.
They may never get a better chance than today.