By Neil Leverett
- England’s women face the United States in Lyon on Tuesday evening, for a place in Sunday’s World Cup final
- Lionesses look to make final step to weekend’s showpiece, after being beaten by Japan at last four stage in 2015
- Favourites Stars and Stripes looking to retain World Cup crown
LYON, FRANCE – England’s Lionesses will look to reach their first World Cup final, as they face tournament favourites and holders the United States on Tuesday evening.
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Lionesses’ date in Lyon
With the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup having reached the semi-finals, England’s women will look to book a place in their very first final, as they face tournament favourites and holders the USA in Tuesday night’s last four clash, at the Parc Olympique Lyonnais in Lyon.
Having overcome both Cameroon and Norway with successive 3-0 victories, the Stars and Stripes will present the toughest test possible as the number one ranked side in the world, but the chance of a first tournament victory against Jill Ellis’ side dangles the prospect of making history, with a final in Sunday’s finale against either Sweden or the Netherlands at stake.
The United States hold the psychological advantage with ten victories over England in sixteen meetings, with a 3-0 win the last time the two met during the 2007 quarter-final in China, however Phil Neville‘s charges bleed belief they can stamp their own place in history and Tuesday night is their chance to do so.
Last four route
Unsurprisingly, neither England or the US have yet to sample defeat in this tournament. Whilst England picked up wins against the Scots, Albicelestes and Japan in their respective Group, the American platform was built after their opening game 13-0 demolition of Thailand in Reims.
Then notching consecutive victories to nil against Chile and semi-finalists Sweden entering the knockout stages, then followed rather more edgy 2-1 wins against a plucky Spain side, before then outclassing hosts France and holding out for a nervous win at the Parc des Princes last Friday night. It has been far from smooth sailing for the US ship.
England, whilst encountering lower ranked sides have nevertheless impressed in their physical clash with Cameroon in the last 16, before Jill Scott‘s early goal against Norway in Le Havre’s quarter-final was then capped by strikes from Ellen White, and Lucy Bronze‘s golden and stunning driven effort from the edge of the area to take the spring out of Gresshoppene.
Golden Boot battle
Whilst perhaps the biggest narrative of the clash lies at the respective feet of both English-born coach Ellis and the Lionesses’ own Santa Monica-born veteran stopper Karen Bardsley, the spotlight will very much be on both sides’ strike forces, with the battle for the Golden Boot looking to be between three of the women on show in Lyon.
After the USWNT’s hammering of Thailand, skipper Alex Morgan‘s five-goal stint single-handedly gave the pin-up girl of the women’s game in the United States the biggest of ledges to clamber onto, and sits on the same tally as team-mate Megan Rapinoe, who has netted braces in the last two games.
Across the pitch, White meanwhile, has been in equally lethal form for the Lionesses but her efforts have been rather more paced out across the tournament in France, having failed to score against only Argentina this summer, in England’s narrow 1-0 win over Argentina, courtesy of Jodie Taylor‘s lone effort of the game.
The clash in Auvergne is set to have the emphasis on attack over defence, which makes the contributions of all three women here all the more vital. So much so, that come the final whistle on Tuesday night, the name at the top of the standings whether it be Rapinoe, White or Morgan, is likely to be a World Cup finalist in 2019.
Rocks in defence
With two flowing offences come the need for water-tight defensive leaders, and both the US and England do not lack taliswomen. Steph Houghton‘s continues to lead her side with heart firmly on sleeve and was frequently the last fort of defence for the Lionesses, when Norway broke the English boughs in Normandy.
As was the case in Paris with Julie Ertz, the defensive midfielder sat in front of the US back line, who repelled the French attack last time out with both Becky Sauerbrunn and Abby Dahlkemper having afforded Les Bleues frequent pockets of space, that on another day would have been more ruthlessly punished – as the pacy Beth Mead will be looking to turn in her favour.
Whilst Houghton boasts 20 more caps to her name, Ertz is the more mobile and as the thread that knits attack and defence to together, the Chicago Red Stars’ player will be the focal point in all areas of the pitch come kick-off.
The two sides have met 16 times down the years, 10 of which the US have won. In their only World Cup meeting to date in 2007 however, an American victory left a rather sour taste in the mouth.
Meeting in the quarter-finals in Tianjin, China, three second half goals in the Olympic Sports Centre Stadium from Abby Wambach, Shannon Boxx and Kristine Lilly eliminated Hope Powell‘s Lionesses, but captain Faye White suffered her own blow.
On the end of a challenge from Wambach – which went un-penalised – the Arsenal player suffered a broken nose but played on in the face of pain. Despite having been outclassed in the second period, White’s injury has never sat well with England and Tuesday night will be a chance to put things right.
Not only have the US provided the motivation for Tuesday evening. England’s reached the semis four years ago in Canada, and were set for extra-time with Japan at 1-1, before Laura Bassett‘s stoppage-time own goal broke English hearts to deny the Lionesses a spot in the final – against the US women.
‘Best chance to beat USA’
England’s route to the semi-finals have seen Neville’s side beat Scotland, Argentina, Japan, Cameroon and Norway, having scored six times in the knockout stages, without conceding a goal.
The Stars and Stripes meanwhile, have had a rather more shaky path to Lyon. Despite their mammoth cumulative Group stage tally of 18 unanswered goals allotted, Ellis side have looked susceptible on set pieces and also on the break to both Spain and France. It is a key facet of the clash which the Lionesses will hope to exploit.
Hope Solo was goalkeeper for the US in their last World Cup meeting, and the now retired international believes England has their best chance of beating her country when they meet on Tuesday.
As she told BBC Sport, the US may even fear this England side:
“What’s different in 2019 is that every team now has to fear England just a little bit – whether that’s because of their attacking play, their midfield, Ellen White scoring goals, or Lucy Bronze and Nikita Parris flying down the right-hand side.
This American team won’t admit it, but the Lionesses can instill a tiny bit of fear in Jill Ellis’ defending champions.”
England’s Lionesses face holders the USA in the first 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup semi-final on Tuesday night, at the Parc Olympique Lyonnais in Lyon, kick-off time 8pm BST.
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