Lucy Bronze said she “completely disagrees” about England’s penalties not being good enough despite missing their last three in the current World Cup in France.
After Nikita Parris scored their opening goal of the tournament from the spot against Scotland, the new Lyon forward missed two more before captain Steph Houghton saw her late effort saved against the United States while the Lionesses trailed 1–2.
In the end, the penalty was England’s last major chance of saving their hopes of a first World Cup final, but Bronze was quick to defend her teammates after the dust had settled.
“I think Nikita Parris has taken some superb penalties and the goalkeepers have made some fantastic saves,” she said. “I think we’re too harsh on the penalty taker sometimes. It’s a lot of pressure on a goalkeeper to pull out a save in a semifinal of a World Cup, and to keep their team on top? That’s unbelievable.
“The Argentina keeper? Unbelievable save. The same for Norway, the keeper has made a fantastic save. It’s a ridiculous comment to say the penalties aren’t good enough, we’ve scored penalties this tournament and we’ve scored them in the past, I don’t think that’s an issue at all.”
Despite Parris being on the pitch and having said pre-match she’d be more than happy to remain on penalty duty despite two misses, head coach Phil Neville said after the game Houghton was the “best penalty taker on the pitch at the time.”
But her scuffed effort was comfortably saved down low by Alyssa Naeher and little more than 10 minutes later, England were out of the World Cup.
Despite the miss, her teammates were quick to defend the center back after the match.
“The fact that she picked the ball up and took it is inspiring in itself,” said goalkeeper Carly Telford. “To do that in such a big moment, as a captain, as a leader… for me, she’s one of the greatest English players of all time. She’ll go down for that.
“Missing a penalty, so what? It’s a big stage, it’s a big moment. Fifty–fifty they go in, they get saved. That’s just how it is. Yes, not to say if she scores that we go on to win or we go on to lose it. It doesn’t mean anything. For me, it’s just brave enough that she took the penalty in the first place. I’m proud of her.”
Bronze said she’d spoken to Houghton immediately after the match, but added that “Steph knows exactly what we all think of her.”
Bronze said, “She’s out captain and it’s not easy to step up in a World Cup semifinal and to try and score a penalty. I think everyone in the nation will take their hats off to her for even stepping up to do that. It’s a huge amount of pressure to take and just because she’s not scored a penalty, the blame is not on her. We’re a team and we win and lose together.”
There were questions immediately after the game as to why joint tournament top scorer, striker Ellen White, didn’t step up to take the penalty given the form she’s been in so far, but the new Manchester City striker had a simple answer for the query.
“I’m not on penalties,” she said. “That’s something that the staff take care of and that’s the decision. I’m not on penalties.”
Neville, the man behind the decision to give Houghton the responsibility, said a lot of work had gone into deciding who would take the penalties.
“We couldn’t speak about it but for six months we have gone into the most in-depth practice and analysis any team has gone into — and then we’ve missed three at the World Cup.
“There’s a certain process in terms of success rate in training and where we were going to go. We spoke to Nikita and the team and agreed the next best penalty taker on the pitch would take the next one and that was Steph. It wasn’t by chance. It was six months of 100–150 penalties being taken. You score some and you miss some — that’s football.”