Phil Neville says, “something is happening, we can’t hide away from that,” after England secured a second straight World Cup semifinal spot with a 3–0 win against Norway in Le Havre.
Goals from Jill Scott, Ellen White, and Lucy Bronze saw the Lionesses comfortably progress to the semifinals in Lyon where they will face either hosts France or holders the United States on Tuesday night.
It was potentially England’s best all-around performance of the tournament, but Neville doesn’t believe his side played any differently to their previous four games, just that they were more “ruthless” in front of goal.
“There was a lot of talk about Norway’s strengths and weaknesses and we paid them a lot of respect,” said Neville. “When I woke up this afternoon I thought, ‘This is about us,’ and the way we play and our style. I just had a feeling they were up for it and they went out and delivered.”
Neville was clearly proud post-match, putting most of the praise on his players, adding it was one of his “proudest moments in football” and that he’s got the “best job ever” as he now takes England into the final four of the competition.
“If you haven’t got players with attitude and determination then you’re dead as a coach. I’ve been so confident because I work with a group of fantastic people.
“I said to them in the huddle, ‘Are you ready to win a World Cup?’ I knew we had a great set of players and we’re in great shape.”
Neville, though, admitted he doesn’t want fans chanting “It’s Coming Home” in the stands, recalling England’s two previous semifinal defeats and knows he and his side can’t get carried away with a tough semifinal to come whether it be France or the U.S.
“You have the best team in the world and the favorites and then the second favorites who have the support and backing of the home nation. One is real power-based, France play a different system, but both teams hold no fears for my players. We want the biggest games, I want them. This will be the biggest game of the World Cup.”
Neville laid most of the praise at the door of his back four, particularly center back duo Steph Houghton and Millie Bright who were both described as “major doubts” by Neville the day before the game.
The head coach also praised Lucy Bronze, once again describing her as the best player in the world and adamant the Lyon right back should win this year’s Ballon d’Or.
“It was midday with Millie before we knew she could play,” he said. “She was sick and then took a turn for the worse over the last few days. She’d not eaten for two days but at midday she had a glint in her eye, she told me she was fit and produced an outstanding performance.
“Steph is irreplaceable. Her influence around the camp is on and off the field. She trains 110 percent every session. She makes notes, drives the players, gives them discipline. She polices the dressing room and then produces performances like that. She’s my captain.”
On Bronze, Neville added, “She’s the best player in the world. She should win the Ballon d’Or. You saw a player at the top of her game. The bigger the game, the better the performance.
“She doesn’t get the respect she deserves. She has got to win the Ballon d’Or. She is the best, there is nobody like her with that physical determination, quality, and ability to produce unbelievable performances every single game. I am lucky.”
Neville made just one change from the win against Cameroon with Demi Stokes coming in for Alex Greenwood, but Neville said he would “probably not” stick with the same team despite a very complete performance on Thursday night.
“We’ve got two games left whatever happens. You have to freshen things up. I have to pick the freshest team because they will win the semifinal and the final.
“We’re not getting carried away but we are inspiring and it feels really good. The players have their feet on ground. They see two games, they have glazed eyes, I can see that. I’m lucky. I’m just the coach. They go out and play with courage, bravery, and play the right way. We’ve said it’s non-negotiable. We’re having fun and we don’t want to go home.”