Women’s World Cup: England Rose to the Occasion Against Norway & Are Hitting Form at the Right Time

​England moved one step closer to their ultimate aim of Women’s World Cup glory on Thursday night as they hammered Norway 3-0 in the quarter finals, putting together their most accomplished overall performance of the tournament so far in the most important game yet. With Norway a potentially very dangerous opponent, showing quality throughout the group stage and knocking out a talented Australia in the round of 16, the timing for England to put together such a display to make the Scandinavians look distinctly average was perfect. Lionesses coach Phil Neville is single minded in his belief that his minimum requirement is to win the World Cup and take the final step to major silverware after a marked rise in recent years. But this had hardly been a flawless tournament from England prior to kickoff in Le Havre. England won the SheBelieves Cup earlier this year and rose to third in the FIFA World Rankings, above France, to underline their World Cup credentials. But four warm up games against Canada, Spain, Denmark and New Zealand in the build up produced mixed results. Getting off to a good start at the World Cup proper by beating Scotland in the opening Group D fixture was vital. England put together an excellent first half display and were cruising towards three points until self-inflicted sloppiness after the break allowed Scotland back into the game. England won 2-1 in the end, but it was a needlessly nervy final few minutes as they held on. A 1-0 win against a surprisingly resilient Argentina followed – England were never really tested in a defensive capacity by the South Americans, whose first ever World Cup point had come as a shock just a few days earlier when they held Japan to a 0-0 draw. England then faced Japan themselves, winning 2-0 with goals in either half from Golden Boot contender Ellen White. The scoreline didn’t tell the whole story because Japan were the dominant side after the break – the result of more avoidable England sloppiness in possession – and it was nothing short of a miracle that the 2011 winners failed to get on the score sheet. England were by far the better team against Cameroon in the first knockout round, a game that quickly descended into a physical battle and will live in infamy for the behaviour of the Cameroon players and the failure from the referee to adequately control things. But again, the game was not without England errors that threatened to derail all their other good work. And so to Norway. There was genuine concern ahead of the game about whether England, having needlessly gifted so many chances to opponents in three of the previous four games, would be able to stifle a vibrant attacking line up that included Barcelona-bound Caroline Graham Hansen, Chelsea-bound Guro Reiten and prolific striker Isabell Herlovsen. England had been fortunate not to be punished earlier on in the tournament, and that question remained: would Norway may make them pay if they continued on that path? The Lionesses therefore needed to rise to the challenge, and they absolutely did. As such, Norway were often left chasing shadows, with Jill Scott’s deadlock breaking goal within three minutes of the opening kickoff setting the tone right for the whole night. White scored her fifth goal of this World Cup shortly before half-time to double England’s advantage, while Scott and Nikita Parris also had chances to increase the lead. White herself had even crashed an effort against the post, with Norway barely able to contain a rampant England. When Lucy Bronze smashed in a third, the result of a set piece that her powerful running and determination had earned, the game was done. Parris could even have made it 4-0 from the penalty spot late on, but, for the second time this tournament, her effort was well saved. It wasn’t by any means a flawless performance from England. There were still a few lapses – Keira Walsh gave the ball away more than once in the first half, for example. But, generally speaking, there were less of them. Whether that is confidence related after the nature of the Cameroon win is unclear, the important thing is that the Lionesses are improving at the right time and fostering a wining mentality – the thing Neville has most tried to instil in this group. Slack play from Millie Bright was responsible for gifting Norway a couple of opportunities. The Chelsea star might be excused after battling illness in the days prior, although she hadn’t look all that comfortable in the possession-based game Neville preaches before either. Goalkeeper Karen Bardsley, while as good as any shot stopper in the world, was another who still looks a little uneasy being asked to play on the ground. She got away with a heavy touch at one point, and while Neville says his preferred style is ‘non-negotiable’, the suitability of certain individuals for that system might be something he has to at least take note of. All in all, things could hardly be looking much better for England as the latter stages of the 2019 World Cup beckon. Five wins, four clean sheets and improving performances as they prepare to face either of the two tournament favourites in the last four is all they could have wished for.

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