England’s football teams are known for leaving competitions in a memorable fashion and unfortunately, tonight was no exception.
It’s official: England is out of the World Cup.
The Lionesses were defeated 2-1 by the USA in Lyon. It wasn’t without a fight and it was a game in which all the players can be very proud of, though I doubt that will be much consolation to them tonight.
England were never the favourites. After all, the Americans are the top-ranked side in the world and they had worked their way through the competition spectacularly so far, thrashing minnows Thailand 13-0 and knocking out the hosts, France in the quarter-finals.
Their cockiness peaked then the team sent scouts to the hotel the Lionesses were staying in, to see if it would be suitable for the Americans to stay in, should they make it to the final. England’s head coach, Phil Neville notes that “it’s not something I would want my team’s operations doing”.
He seemed to leave it as mind games and just wanted to get on with the game.
The match: decoded
When asked before the game why he’d changed his goalkeeper (Karen Bardsley picked up a hamstring injury in the last game) he said, “you need players who are 100% fit”. Neville has rotated the squad throughout, so all the players are used to playing on the highest stage.
Until tonight, the USA had started off dynamically, scoring before the 12th minute every time. Their formation seemed like they were going to go out and make sure they kept this record.
As predicted the game started quickly – the USA got off on the front foot and were attacking immediately. This is the way we have been used to seeing England begin their games. The Americans started off with great pace and it panicked the English.
When they obtained possession, panicked, one-touch passing ensued which often inevitably gave it back to the opposition and they started the attack once again.
It was in only the fourth minute when replacement keeper Telford made her first save after Rose Lavelle nutmegged Millie Bright and went for goal. It wasn’t difficult for her, but it was setting the tone for the match.
The USA kept attacking and in the tenth minute, they got the breakthrough, keeping their tally of scoring before the 12th minute up.
As is often the American way, Kelley O’Hara sent in a perfect cross for an unmarked Christen Press and it went straight into the back of the net. It was almost too easy for the USA – England were not marking their women.
The goal was a wake-up call to the English and within ten minutes Ellen White had equalised due to a perfectly placed long ball by Keira Walsh and a pin-pointed cross by Beth Mead. It was a beautiful goal that felt it came from nowhere. England had their hope back.
From there the game picked up even more, with it going from end to end. There was some sleepy defending from England, but seconds later full back Lucy Bronze would storm up front passing opponents like they’re not there.
Just after the half-hour mark, the USA got their second goal through captain Alex Morgan. She’d been anonymous until then, but a perfect cross from Lindsey Horan found her and she headed it into the back of the net.
It was another defensive error from England – Demi Stokes was sleeping and yet again, England was behind.
They kept pressing on. Keira Walsh almost equalised again with a thundering shot from outside the box. The keeper got her fingertips for it. Minutes later defender Millie Bright, picked up a yellow for shoving Morgan and catching her face.
England was frustrated and it was beginning to show. They were still not marking closely and were losing too many balls that they should be winning.
The second half kicked off with a great tempo again, and there was always the belief that England would pull one back. Neville made some tactical substitutions, taking off Beth Mead and Kiera Walsh for Fran Kirby and Jade Moore.
England kept attacking – Ellen White almost got a second in a scrambled bicycle kick, but it only made it into the hands of the keeper.
In the 67th minute, the game changed when White sinks a tap from Jill Scott into the back of the net. The team erupted and the stadium roared – until it was called back for VAR to have a look at it.
It turned out that White was less than a shoe offside, and the goal was disallowed.
England kept pressing and just over ten minutes later VAR became the star of the show again - this time for a potential penalty when Ellen White goes down in the box.
VAR ruled that White was clipped by Becky Sauerbrunn and the referee pointed to the spot. In the previous two games, England was awarded two penalties, and twice Nikita Parris missed. This time captain Steph Houghton stepped up however, she weakly tapped it to the left-hand corner, straight into the keeper’s hands.
Towards the end of the night, Millie Bright was sent off for her second yellow card for stamping on Morgan.
The game trundled onto the final whistle with England seeking that equaliser, but it was made difficult by the Americans and their time wasting tactics.
On the night it wasn’t to be for the Lionesses. On Saturday, they’ll fight it out for third place in the competition while the USA will be in the final on Sunday defending their title as world champions.