Football Features

“The Bronze Bomber’s World Cup” – Five things learned as England make semi-finals again

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:22, 27 June 2019

In an open night of football, England thrashed Norway 3-0 in the World Cup quarter-finals.

The victory was utterly emphatic and sends them back to the semi-finals for the second consecutive tournament. What did we learn?

1. The Bronze Bomber’s World Cup

Every World Cup one player chooses to announce themselves. They may already be a known quantity but their displays at the tournament are so excellent and dominant that the world never looks at them the same way. To this end, 2019 is Lucy Bronze’s World Cup.

That Bronze came into the tournament a two-time defending winner of both Ligue 1 and the Champions League and yet still managed to exceed even those levels of expectation is absolutely outrageous. It seems an impossible task, but when Phil Neville called Bronze “the best player in the world” after the match, no one really thought that was an absurd statement (and if she’s not the best then she’s surely no. 2). And what could be a greater testament to Bronze’s brilliance than that?

Well, perhaps that when England won 3-0 against Norway all three of the goals were born of Lucy Bronze’s excellence. The first goal came from a brilliant bit of power-running and control on the right flank where she left her defender in the dust before pulling the ball back for Jill Scott to pass the ball into the back of the net. The second goal saw Nikita Parris crossing for Ellen White, but Parris had been released into the box by a gorgeously weighted first-time pass from Lucy Bronze.

Then the third goal, oh goodness the third goal. With echoes of four years ago when a 23-year-old Bronze announced herself at the last World Cup by hammering home a long range goal from a free-kick against Norway (and then scoring in the quarter-final win over Canada). She did the same again. England tried twice to find Bronze from a wide free-kick cutback but failed. Then just short of the hour, from a free-kick won by Bronze herself (of course), it was third-time lucky and the Lyon right-back absolutely rocketed the ball into the back of the net, sealing the victory and putting herself in prime position to win the golden ball.

2. Ellen White’s revenge mission

England started the game fast, and everyone got seriously hyped. But whilst it was a great goal, it was only possible because Ellen White completely mis-kicked. She should have slammed home from the near-post but kicked nothing but air as the ball reached her.

That miss ended up being meaningless to England, but you can tell it weighed on Ellen White because she spent the rest of the game on a mission to get on the scoresheet. Later in the half she smacked a delightful long-shot off the bar, and in the second half she had a couple of efforts, including leaping to make a header despite Ingrid Hjelmseth charging out (and clattering her in the head).

Then of course there was her goal, England’s second. It was nothing exceptional on the face of it, all she did was time her run well and roll the ball into the back of the net. But simply being around to do that, to provide the killer touch, is a massive thing for England as it gives the attack such potency. White’s goal took her level with Alex Morgan and Sam Kerr at the head of the golden boot race (and made her the second-ever English player to score in four consecutive World Cup games after Gary Lineker). With the way she’s playing now, it’s hard to rule her out of getting more!

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3. Norway must make amends with Hegerberg

Norway came into this tournament without the world’s best player Ada Hegerberg, largely because of a dispute over the treatment of the women’s side. Hegerberg’s cause is righteous and should not be belittled just because Norway missed her, but Norway really missed her.

They should make amends with Hegerberg because the striker’s demands are righteous, that should be the main reason. But they should also make amends because they are painfully lacking in a killer touch. They had as much of the ball as England did in the quarter-final clash, certainly they looked very bright and managed to open England up on a few occasions; but they just kept on simply. Missing. Chances. It was so infuriating to watch, and their profligacy is something that a predator like Hegerberg would solve instantly.

4. England’s defence is not so Bright

By the time the game came to an end, England had manage to pass the six hour mark since they last conceded a goal. They let Scotland score with 10 minutes left in their opening game but have kept their sheet spotlessly clean ever since. That is a remarkable achievement taken on its own, but when this performance will be considered, that England escaped without conceding is remarkable.

Countless times in the first half England, in particular Millie Bright, gave the ball away with alarming regularity and allowed Norway to get at their back-line. In the first period Bright was at least at it defensively and made enough late interventions to repel Norway. In the second half she was making the same errors and having to be bailed out by her team-mates.

Karen Bardsley made some enormous saves in the second half to keep England out, Steph Houghton cleared a shot off the line and who else but Lucy Bronze made a crucial last minute block on a Norway shot. The Three Lionesses leak chances like a screen door on a submarine and whilst they have gotten away with it thus far you have to think a team as dangerous as the USA or France would take them apart.

5. Anything is possible

England’s women are into the World Cup semi-final for the second time in the team’s history, four years after making their first semi. That is remarkable, especially so because in all honesty they haven’t really played well collectively. Oh sure, they’ve seen some great individual displays, often many in one game – but there is no idea of England playing together as a great team.

And yet they are into the semi-final. They’ve won all their games at the tournament, scoring 11 goals and conceding just 1. They have won all those games without ever looking solid. Somehow everything is going their way, they tried the same cutback to Lucy Bronze three times and Norway never picked it up, not once!

Even though in the next round England will have to face one of the two best teams in the tournament as they play the winner of USA vs. France, with the way things are going you wouldn’t bet against The Three Lionesses actually going all the way.