In Depth

Phil Neville: the aim is to become the best - I won’t stop

Lionesses head coach is already planning for the future after World Cup semi-final loss against the USA

Fifa Women’s World Cup semi-final England 1 United States 2 

It may have been England’s women in tears at the end of a tense World Cup semi-final but it was that familiar failing of fluffing a penalty kick that cost the Lionesses dearly against the United States. 

Captain Steph Houghton saw her late penalty kick saved by the brilliant US keeper Alyssa Naeher after Becky Sauerbrunn had brought down Ellen White with the England striker bearing down on goal. 

It needed the video assistant referee (VAR) to spot Sauerbrunn’s subtle infringement but Houghton struck a tame spot kick that was gratefully snaffled by Naeher. 

“No blame should be attached to her,” England head coach Phil Neville said of his skipper. “That’s football, that’s sport.”

Lyon serves up a classic

It was a fitting climax to a thrilling game in Lyon in front of a 53,000 crowd. Christen Press gave defending champions USA the lead on ten minutes with a powerful header but England were soon level thanks to White’s deft finish to a cross from Beth Mead. 

Then just after the half-hour mark the Americans restored their advantage with a header from star forward Alex Morgan.

VAR denies England

That’s how the score remained, although both sides had their chances in an action-packed second-half. England thought they had scored when White buried Jill Scott’s through-ball but VAR correctly judged that the striker had been marginally offside. 

Even after the penalty miss the drama wasn’t over with England centre-back Millie Bright sent off for a second bookable offence.

The final whistle brought misery for England - who have now exited their last three major tournaments at the semi-final stage - while for the USA they can prepare to try and win a record fourth title when they face either Sweden or European champions the Netherlands on Sunday.

England will play the other losing semi-finalists in the third/fourth-placed play-off on Saturday in Nice (4pm BST).

England captain Steph Houghton reacts after missing the penalty against the United States

Philippe Desmazes/AFP/Getty Images

Reactions from Lyon

England head coach Phil Neville on the defeat

“We’ll have to allow 24 to 48 hours for this to sink in and for them to get over this disappointment. Nothing I can say will make them feel better. 

“Elite sport and being on top of the world means that on Saturday in Nice we have to produce a performance. It will tell me a lot about my players. 

“I’ve moved on from this already and now I’m looking forward to Saturday’s game. I’ll see the attitude, commitment of my players. They won’t let me down, because they never have.”

Neville on the next steps

“The minute the game finished my first thought was ‘how do we win on Saturday?’ and my second thought was ‘how do we win Olympic gold?’. I was looking at them and that was my motivation. And then I looked at them and thought, ‘how do we win the Euros in 2021?’ I won’t wallow or go back to my room and feel sorry for myself. 

“It’s now making us be better and getting the next two or three per cent that will make us become the best team in the world. The aim is to become the best like America. We’ve still got a way to go. I won’t stop until I get there. 

“I’ve started already. I was actually in my room this afternoon planning the next two years. It’s the way I work. It’s fast.”

England captain Steph Houghton on the penalty miss

“It’s hard to put into words. We took one of the best teams in the world all the way. I’m so proud but I’m disappointed with the penalty and the goals we conceded. 

“Ultimately we know that we can beat them and our aim was to win and we didn’t do that. I got told today [that I’d be taking any penalty] and I’ve been practising them a lot and I was confident. 

“I just didn’t get a good connection. I’m gutted. I’ve let the team down. I’m gutted and heartbroken. We were so close but I’m proud of everyone because we gave it everything.”

Neville on Houghton

“That was cruel. She was outstanding in the game and she read everything. She has probably had the best season of her career. She had the courage to take the penalty and then keep playing football after. She is an amazing person and a world-class footballer.”

United States head coach Jill Ellis

“I can’t even express how proud I am. It was such a great effort from everybody. Everyone stepped up, and that’s what this team’s about. That was her [Alyssa Naeher’s] shining moment. We have one more game. I couldn’t be prouder of this group. We have four days this time in between, so that will help. I told them [in a post-match huddle]: ‘Stay humble. We’ve got one more.’”

England scorer Ellen White

“I’m devastated not to get to the final. But all I feel is pride, proud of my team-mates. The USA had an amazing match, we couldn’t quite match them.”

Player turned BBC pundit Alex Scott

“England were beaten by the better team. When you look at the USA side, they were fitter, ruthless and clinical when they needed to be - those are the lessons England will need to take.”

Today’s back pages: World Cup agony and heartbreak for England’s Lionesses

The United States won the Fifa Women’s World Cup in 2015

Fifa Women’s World Cup fixtures

BBC Sport will show live coverage of the World Cup. All times are BST.

Women’s World Cup semi-finals

Wednesday 3 July: Netherlands vs. Sweden (8pm; Stade de Lyon, Lyon; BBC One)

3rd/4th-place play-off

Saturday 6 July: England vs. Netherlands or Sweden (4pm; Stade de Nice, Nice)

When is the Women’s World Cup final?

The 2019 Fifa Women’s World Cup final will be played at the Stade de Lyon on Sunday 7 July (4pm BST, live on BBC One). The United States, the holders, will play the Netherlands or Sweden. 

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