England boss Phil Neville hailed his players for having “given it our absolute all” at the Women’s World Cup after their 2-1 semi-final defeat against the United States.
Tuesday’s contest in Lyon saw Christen Press put the defending champions in front, Ellen White draw things level and Alex Morgan then head what proved the winner just after the half-hour mark.
Midway through the second half, England thought they had equalised through White, only for her finish to be disallowed on a marginal offside call following a VAR check.
The Lionesses were then awarded an 84th-minute penalty via VAR, but captain Steph Houghton’s effort was kept out by Alyssa Naeher.
Millie Bright was sent off soon after following a challenge on Morgan.
Rather than returning to the venue on Sunday for what would have been their first Women’s World Cup final, England – now beaten in the semi-finals of three successive major tournaments – will instead play in Nice on Saturday in the third-place play-off, against Holland or Sweden.
Afterwards, Neville said of the post-match huddle he had had with his players: “I didn’t want to see tears. You lose, but I thought the way we lost was exactly the way I wanted us to play.
“The courage they had to play football and keep going and battle – they left everything out there. We have no regrets. We’ve come to the World Cup and given it our absolute all, and that’s what I said to them.
“I didn’t want to see tears – there should be smiles. We’ve had the best 46 days of our life and it’s not ended yet.”
He added: “I can’t say to my players unlucky, because they don’t want to hear that. They’re not listening probably to the words I’m saying in terms of I’m proud of them, they left their hearts and souls on the pitch – that’s white noise to them. Because they wanted to win.
“That tells me we are closer than we have ever been. Maybe in the past we’ve accepted ‘semi-final, we’re going home and we’ll get plaudits’. But my players don’t want to hear that any more. They’re sick of it, and so am I. We came here to win and we didn’t do that.
“I think we’ll have to allow 24 to 48 hours for this to sink in, for them to get over the disappointment. But elite sport means that on Saturday in Nice we have to go and produce a performance.”
Houghton stepped up to take the penalty with Nikita Parris having already had two saved in the tournament.
While Neville told BBC Sport “no blame should be attached” to the skipper, Houghton said she was “gutted” and felt she had “let the team down”.
She added: “We’ve got to go and try and get a bronze medal now.”
In the build-up to the game, there had been questions put to the US about whether they had been showing signs of arrogance, and relating to a visit made by at least one member of their staff to England’s team hotel on Sunday.
Boss Jill Ellis said after the match: “It goes back to the mindset. We’re here for one thing. Not external noise. We’re here to win the trophy. So everything we talk about and focus on is about that.
“When you are the premier team, you’re always going to have noise, external stuff, to deal with.
“But I’m around the players a fair bit and the conversations I hear are about the game. I think they are professionals.”
Ellis also confirmed forward Megan Rapinoe had sat out the contest due to a “slight strain to her hamstring”.
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Reigning Copa America champions Chile will aim to take the next step in their bid to retain the trophy as they face outsiders Peru in Wednesday night’s semi-final in Porto Alegre.
Both teams won through to the last four thanks to penalty shootout victories in the quarter-finals, with Chile overcoming Colombia while Peru stunned Uruguay.
But the manner of their overall performances was very different, and Chile are red-hot favourites heading into the encounter. And their quest to make history kicks off our key talking points ahead of the action.
CHILE ON TRACK FOR HISTORIC THREE-PEAT?
For a relatively small country (population 17 million) surrounded by far more powerful footballing gargantuans, Chile’s success in winning back to back Copa Americas in 2015 and 2016 was a truly remarkable achievement – especially as the country had never previously won any major honours at all.
Now, though, La Roja are aiming to rewrite the history books once more by claiming the continental crown for the third successive occasion, something that has only previously been achieved by Argentina between 1945 and 1947.
The route to glory has seemingly been cleared for Chile, who have been spared the danger of Uruguay thanks to Peru’s penalty shootout victory in Saturday’s quarter-final, and the team powered by veteran former title winners Gary Medel, Arturo Vidal and Alexis Sanchez are regarded as major favourites to advance to the final.
Chile’s confident performance against Colombia in the quarter-final could easily have yielded victory inside 90 minutes before their eventual shootout success, and they have the extra assurance of winning seven of their last eight competitive games against Peru in a sequence dating back to 2004. So history appears to be on Chile’s side…but will technology be?
VAR TO TAKE CENTRE STAGE AGAIN?
To the disdain of traditionalists, VAR played a major role in the quarter-final ties for both teams at opposite ends of the fortune spectrum.
Chile had goals disallowed by Charles Aranguiz (offside) and Arturo Vidal (handball), while Peru benefitted from no less than three Uruguayan goals being ruled out for offside before the penalty shootout.
Sadly, VAR is likely to be an active participant in this semi-final contest because referees throughout the competition have been unanimously eager to seek video advice, with regular stoppages for VAR reviews contributing to the frustratingly stop-start nature of the action during the quarter-finals as well as providing mammoth injury time additions to the action.
In VAR’s defence, those five quarter-final goals involving Chile and Peru were all correctly disallowed, so it is clear that technology is serving its primary purpose of getting more decisions right.
But the delays to ensure that justice is served have simply been too long, and football’s authorities need to find a way of making sure VAR can act more speedily in order to avoid mass opposition as its implementation grows around the world.
In the short-term, though, Chile will just be hoping they can score a goal without technology getting in the way.
CAN FLORES FIRE PERU?
VAR or no VAR, however, a big change for the semi-finals is that teams will be granted an additional half-hour to find a winning goal before the dreaded penalty shootout thanks to the return of extra time, which was not used in the previous round.
On the face of it, that looks like bad news for Peru, who have somehow managed to sneak their way into the semis despite only scoring in one of their four games so far. They lost 5-0 against Brazil and drew 0-0 against both Venezuela and Uruguay, only managing to breach the defences of Bolivia in a 3-1 group stage victory.
Peru’s best chance of advancing to the final, on that evidence, will probably be holding out for another shootout following a goalless draw. But in mathematical terms that task is now 33 per cent more difficult with the addition of extra time if required, so Peru should probably now consider a slightly more expansive approach in the hope of scoring a goal or two.
On the evidence of the last eight meeting with Uruguay, perhaps their most likely route of getting on the scoresheet will be the pace and trickery of left winger Edison Flores, who made headlines for scoring the winning goal in the shootout and was also Peru’s most dangerous attacker during the 90 minutes.
If Peru need to break with their recent tradition and actually score a goal, Flores could be their best bet to provide it.
Old rivals Brazil and Argentina go head to head for what promises to be the game of the tournament in the opening Copa America semi-final on Tuesday night.
Argentina were the only team to score in a quarter-final stage notable for a series of penalty shoot-outs, and Brazil will have to play much better than their lacklustre showing against Paraguay.
Let’s look at the main talking points ahead of a potentially explosive encounter.
Can Brazil find penetration?
This has been a rather odd tournament for Brazil, who were jeered by their own fans in the opening game against Bolivia before eventually easing to a 3-0 victory, and were later held to goalless draws by both Paraguay and Venezuela but also showed their undoubted potential with a thumping 5-0 victory over Peru.
The cause of Tite’s team has not been helped by injury absences for Neymar and Richarlison, but there is still plenty of attacking quality within the squad’s ranks and established stars Roberto Firmino, Gabriel Jesus and Philippe Coutinho are under pressure to deliver vastly improved performances from their below-par showings in the damp squib quarter-final against Paraguay.
The bright spot for Brazil as an attacking force has been the emergence of exciting winger Everton, but the Gremio star has also been guilty of inconsistency in the final third and should probably still be regarded as a potential star in the making rather than the real deal.
So although it’s highly likely that Brazil will enjoy plenty of the ball against an Argentina team which looks increasingly comfortable sitting deep in defence, the big question is whether the hosts will be able to find end product to go with that possession. And after being held scoreless twice in four games, the answer is not a foregone conclusion.
Three up front for Scaloni?
Argentina delivered arguably their best all-round team performance since 2016 in their quarter-final victory over Venezuela, marrying a solid defence with a purposeful attack to create a balanced and well-structured approach which yielded a well-deserved 2-0 victory.
The dilemma facing boss Lionel Scaloni, though, is whether he has enough confidence in his team’s defensive capabilities to maintain the same tactical set-up against the stronger opposition provided by Brazil, with captain Lionel Messi operating behind two out-and-out strikers in the form of Lautaro Martinez and Sergio Aguero.
Considering the attacking licence given to Brazil’s full-backs – Filipe Luis or Alex Sandro on the left and the rampaging Dani Alves on the right – Scaloni will be extremely tempted to tighten up his team’s back line, especially their defensive width, by including an extra midfielder at the expense of one of the forwards.
Alternatively, though, the Argentina boss could conclude that both Martinez and Aguero have been playing too well to be omitted, while clearly Messi is undroppable despite his current poor form, and that Brazil’s penchant to get their full-backs high up the pitch will leave plenty of space for his front trio to exploit. Does Scaloni dare to be bold?
Will Messi find form?
Irrespective of whether Scaloni opts to repeat the same formation he employed against Venezuela or plumps for a more cautious approach, the biggest possible plus for the Albiceleste would be if skipper Messi can return to form.
By Messi’s own admission, this has been a poor tournament for the Barcelona star, who has scored just one penalty in four games and was guilty of regularly squandering possession in the victory over Venezuela while failing to register any shots on target.
Messi has complained about the quality of the pitches in Brazil, comparing the ball to a rabbit due to the uneven bounce which has hindered his efforts to dribble at speed and release instant passes, and to his frustration the turf at the Estadio Mineirao in Belo Horizonte is also expected to be in a poor shape despite not staging a game for more than a week.
But Messi, on any kind of playing surface, knows that he is capable of producing much greater quality than he has managed so far in Brazil. And with his team finally starting to show signs of developing a decent collective structure around him, he will be operating from a position of greater strength than anyone could have expected. If he can hit top gear, it could be quite a spectacle.