Much of the knockout stage talk has centered around the United States-France quarterfinal.
Whoever wins is in for one hell of a semifinal.
England turned in its best performance of the Women’s World Cup in beating Norway 3-0 in Le Havre, and now looks to build upon its third-place finish four years ago.
It didn’t even take three minutes before the Three Lionesses jumped ahead, showcasing what makes them so dangerous. They overloaded the middle of the field as England’s Lucy Bronze beat fullback Kristine Minde down the right, and the other Norwegian defenders were so desperate to cover the threat they didn’t notice Ellen White and Jill Scott pull up their runs.
After Bronze cut the ball back across the box, White uncharacteristically whiffed on her chance, but Scott was in line to finish the chance.
Norway grew into the game, but England still generated the better of the chances with White hitting the woodwork and Nikita Parris misplacing a far-post effort from six yards out.
In general, the Norwegians afforded England far too much space and struggled to keep up with marks. They were very compact without the ball, more than expected in such instances, which is a recipe for trouble against England’s lethal wide play.
White finally got her goal in the 40th minute, again with the attack coming from the right. Bronze played through Parris, who rolled White a sitter as she became England’s all-time career World Cup scoring leader with six goals.
We could chime in next with something about England’s penchant for playing set pieces short under manager Phil Neville, but we’ll just let Bronze’s 57th-minute belter speak for itself.
Norway goalkeeper Ingrid Hjelmseth saved Parris’ late penalty, or else the scoreline would have been even more decisive in favor of the Three Lionesses, who stroll into the semis on a high note.
Steph Houghton and Millie Bright, England’s center back pairing, represented the biggest question mark as both reportedly suffered from a viral illness in the hours leading up to kickoff.
England looked composed in the back nonetheless, with Houghton hustling to clear a shot by Lisa-Marie Utland off the line in the 66th minute after a mistake by keeper Karen Bardsley.
That’s the closest the Norwegians would get to the scoresheet. They acquitted themselves well at this World Cup, beating African champions Nigeria and Sam Kerr-led Australia while nearly upsetting France in the second group stage match. All this without reigning Ballon d’Or winner Ada Hegerberg, who chose to skip the tournament amid an ongoing protest against Norway’s federation.
There’s no shame in running out of steam against these Lionesses. They’re really, really good.
Either the United States or France is about to experience that firsthand.
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