QUARTER FINAL: NORWAY 0-3 ENGLAND
ENGLAND progressed to the semi-finals of a third consecutive major tournament, with clinical finishing underscoring an unexpectedly comfortable 3-0 win over Norway. The Lionesses were on the board within 3 minutes when Jill Scott turned in Lucy Bronze’s cross from the by-line. Ellen White extended the lead five minutes before the break, tapping in Nikita Parris’s centre after another swift break down the right. Bronze completed the scoring on 57 minutes, drilling into the roof of the net from the edge of the box with Norway failing to pick her up at a set-piece.
The result could have been more emphatic. White hit the post in the first period and Parris failed to convert a late penalty with Ingrid Hjelmseth making a fine stop.
Norway fell short of the standards they’d set prior to this match but English sloppiness still presented them with chances to score. England keeper Karen Bardsley and captain Steph Houghton made several key interventions between them to safeguard England’s clean sheet.
Head Coach Phil Neville made just one change from the side that beat Cameroon, bringing in Demi Stokes at left back for Alex Greenwood. Martin Sjogdren’s Norway were unchanged from the line-up that started in the victory over Australia.
The Lionesses made the perfect start. Ellen White held up the ball in midfield and found Parris on the right wing. Lucy Bronze provided an overlap and charged past her marker, cutting back to White who’d followed the move. White missed her kick but Jill Scott was in support, adjusted her feet quickly and stroked the ball in off the right hand post.
It allowed Neville’s side to settle. Another sortie down the right involving Houghton and Scott ended with Parris cutting inside but blasting over. Parris turned provider from a Bronze throw-in on 29 minutes chipping behind the defence for White, whose shot cannoned off the upright.
The Grasshoppers struggled to get their attack firing, but they should have engineered something on 31 minutes with Reiten choosing to shoot rather than pass on the edge of the box. Demi Stokes blocked and although there was a half-hearted handball shout, no VAR check was forthcoming.
England turned up the pressure as the half entered its closing minutes. Keira Walsh won possession in midfield, snapped the ball out to Fran Kirby on the left and her cross was met at the far post by Parris, who drew a smart save from Hjemseth. It wouldn’t the last time they crossed swords.
Indeed, sixty seconds later it was 2-0. Houghton and Bronze had played newly signed Lyon forward, Parris, in behind the backline and she put the tap-in on a plate for White – who now has five goals for the tournament.
England almost extended their lead in stoppage time. Stokes, brought in to provide more defensive solidity, forayed forward and whipped in a dangerous cross from the left. Scott couldn’t quite get enough purchase on the ball to divert it goal bound.
The Norwegians had to respond and almost got back into game within 2 minutes of the restart. Kristine Minde’s cross from the left was headed back across goal by Isabell Herlovsen, but before Caroline Graham Hansen could get her shot away Steph Houghton nicked the ball off her toes.
On 51 minutes, England won a freekick on the right. Rather than swinging it in, Toni Duggan passed to Bronze unmarked on the edge of the box, but her first touch was heavy and she couldn’t get the power in her shot to trouble the keeper. It turned out to be a warning that Norway did not heed.
Just six minutes later, in virtually the same spot, substitute Beth Mead found Bronze poised again in space. The full back chose to hit it first time, in stride, hammering the ball into the roof of the net and nearly taking Hjelmseth’s head off for good measure.
Three goals to the good, England then got sloppy with Millie Bright, in particular, having a mad ten minutes squandering possession near her penalty area. Substitute Lisa-Marie Utland rounded Bardsley, but was thwarted by Houghton on the goal line. Moments later, Herlovsen drew a good stop from the England keeper low to her right.
Ingrid Engen’s drive from distance was then flicked just past the post by Utland. With the clock ticking into the final ten minutes, more defensive nervousness gave Norway the chance to engineer an opening in their right channel. Bardsley got enough of a glove on the final cross to divert it away from goal and Bronze was on the scene to clear up.
The Lionesses were awarded a penalty on 82 minutes when Maria Thorisdottir pushed Houghton over at a set-piece. Nikita Parris, who had missed a spot kick against Argentina, was happy to assume responsibility. She struck it well enough, but Hjelmseth sprung to her right and made the save.
Much had been made of England substitute Georgia Stanway tweeting about her brother’s desire to watch the game on the big screens at Glastonbury. He got his wish and his sister nearly gave him another goal to celebrate after fellow sub Rachel Daly engineered a shooting opportunity, but the Manchester City youngster sliced wide of the target.
“This is where we want to be. We paid respect to Norway, but we are the 3rd best team in the world and we have confidence in our own ability. We heard how they were going to outrun us. We stuck to our plan and passed the ball.”Phil Neville, England Head Coach
Overall this was England’s best performance of the tournament so far, with several key players – specifically White, Bronze, Barsdsley, Scott and Houghton – really stepping up and delivering their ‘A’ game. Other players are improving match-to-match and Neville’s steadfast conviction in rotating players in and out for different opponents is paying off. There is still a nagging concern about the way the Lionesses lose concentration in patches and gift possession in dangerous areas of the pitch – something that will surely be more costly against either France or USA in the semi-final. But they do look like they can score against anyone and, in Ellen White, have the most clinical striker in the tournament right now. If they can cut out the unforced errors, there’s more in the tank with this group.
Norway, meanwhile, had a poor night, but have achieved a ‘par for the course’ over the tournament. Their extra time exertions against the Matildas may have robbed them of a little sharpness, particularly in front of goal, but they also didn’t seem to heed some of the tactical breadcrumbs that Japan and Scotland had left behind from the Group Stages; failing to put enough pressure on either of the centre backs or on Walsh in the deeper midfield position when England were playing out. Nonetheless the Grasshoppers have provided some great moments, pushing hosts France very hard in the group and participating in one of the games of the tournament against Australia. And all without that Ballon D’Or Winner, she who should not be named…
Player of the match: Ellen White, England (Lots of POTM candidates tonight, but White never stopped running and gave a striker’s masterclass in how to be a complete pain in the backside to both Mjelde and Thorrisdottir in Norway’s defence.)