FIFA Women's World Cup 2019: USA's wealth of talent and experience too good for Phil Neville's England in semi-final

Reigning world champions of the women’s game, USA beat England 2-1 at Lyon to book their place in the FIFA Women's World Cup final. Two headed goals each, from Alex Morgan (31st minute) and Christen Press (10th minute) for the USA, were enough to hold fighting England to an arm’s distance. England gave themselves every opportunity of a comeback and taking the game into extra-time with a second-half barrage, but could not add onto Ellen White’s 6th goal of the tournament (19th minute).

 FIFA Womens World Cup 2019: USAs wealth of talent and experience too good for Phil Nevilles England in semi-final

United States players celebrate after defeating England in the semi-final. Reuters

For England, this was another instance of growing pains they have to go through, as a footballing nation, before they can claim that the game belongs to them. An overturned goal and a scuffed penalty meant that the god of kindly breezes and the god of inches were not in their favour, even though Fates rolled the dice championing the lion-hearted cause of the Lionesses. 

This was a game of knife-edge moments, a game fitting to be a World Cup final in its own right, considering the amount of drama and dynamism on offer. Turn away for a sip of Earl Grey, and you’d miss a foul, a through ball, a cross or a turn over in possession. Unraveling in front of our eyes was a testament that the women’s game can indeed produce world-class entertainment value to match any other sport. For the USA that message is crucially important, for football competes with the razzle-dazzle of the NBA. For England though, it was another ego-check.

England don’t have a habit of failing modestly. If and when they fail at semi-finals or quarter-finals, it has to be a hero’s death, where the drama of the demise compensates for the loopholes in the play. A second yellow card for Millie Bright in the closing stages of the game was the knife twist England couldn’t have done without. This was following their captain, Steph Houghton’s missed penalty, and Ellen White’s ruled-out goal. Both decisions were VAR referrals. Which only goes to show what  VAR giveth, what VAR taketh away. 

England played with a 4-4-2 formation. Full-back Lucy Bronze and winger Rachel Daly were instructed to ping in early diagonals into the box, where the narrowness of the frontline meant Ellen White and Nikita Parris could position themselves at either goal post. Kiera Walsh did have some joy. Her crossfield pass opened the usual spendthrift USA defence and found Beth Mead on the left wing. The Arsenal winger took a touch and fizzed in a cross towards a galloping Ellen White in the box, who in turn found the top corner with a side-foot finish.

The powers of Bronze quelled by a magnificent managerial gamble of replacing world-beater Megan Rapinoe with Christen Press. Rapinoe, for all her stark brilliance and domineering spirit, conserves her energy when it comes to tracking the runs of the opposition full-back. She does this in order to heighten her incisiveness on the counter, placing herself further up the pitch, closer to the goal. Seems justifiable for someone who has scored 5 goals in 4 games. If Rapinoe featured last night, Bronze, England’s forward thinking right wing-back, may have had a day out in Coney Island pier, cotton candy, corncobs and all.

Deployed to pull Bronze both ways, Press was the player with the most distance run on the pitch. Press was both a noun and a verb. However, in an hour before kick-off when the press officers were handed USA’s team sheet with no Rapinoe, Press was an interjection with two question marks and two exclamation marks. Manager Jill Ellis' tactical gambit looked to be paying off as early as the 10th minute, when Bronze failed to mark a USA coop-raid resulting in Press’s opening headed goal.

This was the USA's sixth goal scored in the opening ten minutes of their World Cup campaign. The piston and lever combination of Press and Crystal Dunn made USA’s left-side almost impossible to breach. Midfielder Rose Lavelle burst of pace through the middle sent England scrambling backward.

Following this, the USA tried to settle into a familiar rhythm, allowing the opposition more of the possession and looking to break on the counter. But with the second-half, England threatened to not only equal the score but overturn the deficit. But it was not to be.

When England looked to be exhausted from their huffing and puffing, without much direction in their concentrated effort, the USA had the wealth of talent and experience of Mewis and Carli Llyod to bring on. While England had to throw in a 20-year-old to steady the attacking flow. Game-management and the lack of a counter-strategy were ultimately the difference. It was not that there was a gaping difference in the talent, but perhaps a difference in the application of it.

To add Bhut Jolokia (ghost pepper) to England’s wounds, Alex Morgan’s tea cup sip celebration caused an uproar in conservative, Brexit Twitter and Reddit. “How dare she make fun of an integral British tradition? How dare she bring up old wounds of the Boston Tea Party?” All things considered, if there are countries that should feel insulted, leading tea exporters India, China, Vietnam, Sri Lanka should, at England’s feeling of being wronged.  

It will serve England better to not get distracted by trivialities and look inwards both on and off the pitch. It starts with addressing the competency or lack of Phil Neville.

Updated Date: Jul 03, 2019 16:13:51 IST