LE HAVRE, France (AP) — Lucy Bronze helped set up the first two goals before completing England’s 3-0 victory over Norway with a powerful shot of her own Thursday night, sending the team into its second straight Women’s World Cup semifinal.
After finishing third at the last tournament four years ago, England will now face either France or the United States on Tuesday in its quest for a first women’s final.
“Their two scouts were sitting literally behind the bench,” England coach Phil Neville said. “So I waved at them after the goals.”
The first 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. Ellen 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 spotted White racing between the Norway center backs to receive the pass and sweep into the net.
It was a clever routine that led to the third in the 57th minute. With England preparing to take a free kick on the left flank, Norway was expecting it to be swung into the penalty area. But Beth Mead spotted Bronze arriving at the edge of the penalty area unmarked and the right back connected first-time and raised it high into the roof of the net with a fierce shot.
“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.
Beckham, a former teammate of Neville’s at Manchester United and England, paid a visit to the team hotel in Deauville before the game with 7-year-old daughter Harper.
“That gave them a sense over how special the performances have been,” Neville said.
A video message from retired rowing champion Katherine Grainger, Britain’s most decorated female Olympian, was played in the team meeting.
“It gave you goosebumps,” Neville said, “about what it takes to win.”
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.
The path to victory in Stade Océane did seem to be impeded by a virus in the camp.
Despite a concerning medical update from Neville on the eve of the game about Millie Bright’s sickness, 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. But she made a decisive goal-line clearance in the second half after Bright’s sloppy back pass went straight to Lisa-Marie Utland, who was nearly tripped by goalkeeper Karen Bardsley before shooting from a tight angle.
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.”
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