Monday 09 September 2019, 15:06

Phil Neville: Defining match

  • Phil Neville nominated for The Best FIFA Women’s Coach award

  • His England side finished fourth at France 2019

  • We take a closer look at the Lionesses’ quarter-final win against Norway

England’s Group D performances at the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019™ were clinical, if not wholly convincing. A 2-1 win against close rivals Scotland was followed by narrow victories against a stubborn Argentina and Japan – with the latter not the force they once were. Then, a rather bewildering victory against Cameroon in the Round of 16 set up a last-eight tie against Norway.

Were England truly one of the favourites for the title, as coach Phil Neville continued to insist?

They undoubtedly proved their credentials in Le Havre.

Philip Neville, Head Coach of England celebrates

The tactical set-up

There had been uncertainty abound - mainly amongst his defence - before Neville named his starting XI. Captain Steph Houghton had been nursing an ankle injury picked up in the Cameroon game, while her regular central defensive partner Millie Bright had been suffering from illness. In the end, Neville made just one change from the Round of 16 game - which did come in defence, but a tactical switch - as Demi Stokes replaced Alex Greenwood at left-back.

Otherwise, it was the same tactical set-up that had stood the Lionesses in good stead so far in France: a reasonably conventional 4-2-3-1. Jill Scott and Keira Walsh anchored the midfield which allowed a fluid and exciting trio of Fran Kirby (playing No10), Nikita Parris (starting from the right) and Toni Duggan (starting from the left) interchanging behind top scorer Ellen White – who led the line.

The inclusion of Stokes suggested Neville wanted to tighten things up a bit defensively – the Manchester City full-back is renowned for her physical strength which would come in handy against the Norwegians. Her increased physicality and ability to deal with Norway’s attacking talent would also allow Lucy Bronze to get further forward on the other flank.

The outcome

Despite being a midfield anchor, Jill Scott got herself into the box to score early on, converting a Bronze cross after White had surprisingly air-kicked. The goal, coming after just two minutes and seven seconds, helped settle any Lionesses nerves – which followed a pattern in France: England had scored in the opening 15 minutes in three of their first four games.

The pressure did not stop there, as Scott continued to press higher up the pitch than usual which – while risky and leaving England vulnerable to counter-attacks – unsettled the Norwegian defence. White hit the post before doubling the Lionesses’ advantage just before the interval, and Scott herself went close to adding a third before the half-time whistle.

England’s right-hand side was undoubtedly their strong point, with Bronze and Nikita Parris crucial to the team’s dominance. Norway came out stronger after the break but their momentum was halted by a stunning effort from eventual Player of the Match Bronze. She was teed up by a free-kick from the Lionesses’s right wing, taken by the recently-introduced Beth Mead.

Nikita Parris’s second penalty miss of the tournament was ultimately inconsequential as England saw the game out - with Neville able to give Georgia Stanway and Rachel Daly minutes leading into the semi-final.

The reaction

"I've got the best job ever. Coaches can be the best in the world but if you haven't got the best players, with the attitude, determination and the ability to learn and improve, then you're dead as a coach. I suppose that's why for the last 18 months I've been so confident, bullish at times, brave with the words that I'm using because I work day in, day out with a group of players that are absolutely astonishing. They astonish and inspire me every day. Today was one of the proudest moments I've had in football,” Phil Neville after the match.