Football Features

From White to Bright: the winners and losers as USA beat England to make World Cup final

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:35, 2 July 2019

In a dramatic night of football, USA beat England in the World Cup semi-final.

The win puts the Americans back into the final for the third consecutive tournament and gives them the chance to retain the trophy for the first time in their history. Who were the winners and losers? Read on and find out!

Winner: Alex Morgan

When you turn 30 years old, you always want to celebrate it memorably. There are so many different ways to do just that, but it’s hard to think of many better than scoring a goal to win your nation a World Cup semi-final, which is just what Alex Morgan did.

The American came into the semi-final having failed to score since the opening game of the tournament where she incredibly smashed in five goals. That gave her an early lead in the race for the golden boot though she was subsequently caught by Sam Kerr, Megan Rapinoe and Ellen White. With Kerr eliminated and Rapinoe on the bench it came to to her vs. White. Then when White scored to put England ahead, moving onto six goals, Morgan had to respond.

And she did. She drifted out to a wide position and then darted infield to meet Lindsey Horan’s sublime clipped cross. There she guided it incredibly, a simply stunning bit of muscle movement in her neck to redirect the kinetic energy of the ball, straight into the back of the net to put the USA back into a lead they would never surrender.

Happy Birthday, Alex Morgan!

Loser: England’s defence

England’s defence came into this game having conceded just one goal all tournament, and given that was in the opening game it meant that they were coming into the semi-final off the back of four consecutive clean sheets. That’s something to be proud of, but unfortunately all that pride just led to really quite a spectacular fall against the USA.

First there is the obvious ignominy of conceding two goals in the first 31 minutes. Obviously the USA are world-class, the best team on the planet, but England didn’t make them work for the first goal (it was oh so simple) and could have defended Lindsey Horan better for the American’s second effort.

Then, well, yikes. First captain Steph Houghton stepped forward to take the crucial penalty in the 84th minute. This was to be the dramatic equaliser that sent the match to extra time, and Houghton knew it. Then she blew it. Houghton should have hammered it in (as she did the indirect free-kick against Cameroon) but instead dribbled it back to Alyssa Naehler, Southgate-style. As if that wasn’t enough, Millie Bright (who has had a shocking tournament) picked up a second yellow card minutes later, getting sent off.

Winner: Ellen White

Five games played. Six goals scored. Every time Ellen White took the field for England she found the back of the net. This was a phenomenal run for the Manchester City striker, a supreme tournament where she proved that she has a supernatural goalscoring instinct.

This was a game where White was always going to be starved of service. It would come and go in fits and starts but it meant that she was going to have to be clinical. Every chance was going to have to be made to matter, because there would be so few.

In the end, there were three. And she made them all count. First, the goal. Beth Mead bent a gorgeous cross in from the left-wing and White came onto it, drifting away from defenders, and guiding the ball into the back of the net.

Next, the disallowed goal. Jill Scott made an amazing flick to move the ball through but White’s supernatural movement made the pass possible, and when she had the ball there was never any doubt that she would finish and she buried the chance before it was ruled out.

Finally, the penalty. Again the ball got worked out onto the left after a gorgeous pass from Fran Kirby, then Nikita Parris whipped another glorious cross into the box. White ran onto the ball and it looked for all the world like a goal was coming. But Becky Sauerbrunn’s covering run saw her leg impacting White’s shooting leg.

The touch was slight but it was enough to win the penalty; the penalty that should have seen England equalise with just five minutes left. Alas, it didn’t, and Ellen White is out of the World Cup – but she goes out with her head held high.

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Loser: VAR

We saw the good of VAR with the way it awarded England the penalty late on. Sure. But overall the feeling that this match has left us with is that VAR is such a nuisance. Obviously it has the potential for greatness, but there are fundamental ways in the way that it is applied that will always mean that it comes off as just annoying and wrong, even when it’s being correct.

In the second half Jill Scott flicked the ball behind the American defence and Ellen White’s supreme run was matched with an excellent finish. 2-2, right? Wrong. VAR ruled that White was offside by a foot. Not a foot as in the measure of distance, but literally her foot was in an offside position. That is an absurd application of a rule that was meant to prevent cheesy goal-hanging tactics, and it feels fundamentally wrong when it comes to the spirit of the game. It doesn’t favour attacking play, which is exactly what all rules in the game should do.

Winner: Jill Ellis

There’s no doubt that Jill Ellis has done some really strange things so far this tournament. Benching Lindsey Horan for two consecutive games is one. Constantly playing an injured Alex Morgan instead of allowing her to rest is another. Generally these decisions haven’t come back to haunt her, but she’s carried the air of someone who is just sort of there.

Well tonight she really earned her corn. With Rapinoe out of the side (many speculate through injury) she chose to start Christine Press in attack. To compensate for having a defensive worker like Press on the left she reintroduced Lindsey Horan into midfield.

These changes worked superbly. Press scored the opening goal helped keep a lid on the lethal Lucy Bronze and Horan gave America a sharpness in midfield England couldn’t match, creating the winning goal with a sumptuous cross. Hats off to Jill Ellis, she got this one right!

Loser: Phil Neville

Phil Neville is the Fifty Shades of Grey to Gareth Southgate’s Twilight. Pure tribute act. The man is all talk, and he really can talk the talk. But when it comes to walking he gives off the air of a lazy father watching TV on a Sunday morning; absolutely no walking whatsoever.

Neville’s decision to switch to a flat 4-4-2 saw England get absolutely massacred by the Americans. Their equaliser was a moment of genius from Jill Scott, not anything Neville cooked up. In fact moments of genius is exactly how Neville has gotten here in the first place. His management of England never saw the Lionesses play with any sort of coherence or style. It was all a mishmash and so no surprise the USA made light work of them (the match ended up being close but honestly America took their foot off the pedal in the second half). Neville’s subs didn’t really work either, and his baffling loyalty to Millie Bright ended up costing him when she got herself sent off.

Playing 4-4-2 against a side that had Lindsey Horan and Rose Lavelle in midfield is almost suicidal and it was no surprise that the two Americans absolutely ran the show in the middle of the park. It’s baffling how a manager can be so retrograde in his thinking in such a massive match – but then who exactly did Phil Neville coach before getting this job anyway? An embarrassment of a coach.