It’s a big test for Phil Neville’s Lionesses tomorrow morning against defending champions – the United States – who are a powerhouse yet to be overcome.

Women’s Football Writer for These Football Times and The Bleacher Report Rich Laverty believes it’s going to be a very tough game for England and is not expecting any real changes in Phil Neville’s strategy or selections.

“Phil Neville has said all along that his style of football is non-negotiable, he’s not going to change what he believes in and that is his toughest test now,” he told Evenings on FNR.

“He’s said it to me before, that he will live or die by the decisions that he makes, and I think that has never rang more true than it will tonight.

“Because if he sticks to what he believes in and sticks to what he’s done, and he wins the game, people will say ‘you know what, absolute genius.’

“If we lose, people will point to all sorts of things.” 

The USA won’t be gifting England anything, so if the Lionesses are to beat them they are going to have to be clinical, sharp and on their game the full 90 minutes.

The former Manchester United class of 92 full-back took his country by surprise after he was announced as Lionesses head coach.

There had been some scepticism around his appointment, given he had no managerial experience at the top level, despite his illustrious playing career.

Prior to the Women’s World Cup, Lionesses fans were also questioning how far into France 2019 the team would go.

“There definitely was [scepticism] when he first took the job because it was such a surprise, we were kind of expecting someone from within the women’s game,” Laverty said.

“Phil came in obviously as a big name who everyone knew, but had never managed before and had never worked in the women’s game before.

“We had a few poor results before the tournament, we lost to Sweden at the end of last year, in the build-up we lost to Canada and then we lost to New Zealand as well so there was a bit of doubt.” 

Fast forward five games later, England have won every game at the Women’s World Cup and conceded only one goal. Neville has qualified for the 2020 Olympics.

No doubt having worked under the great Sir Alex Ferguson has influenced Neville’s high standards and expectations. Neville revealed to media in the UK that if England don’t beat the world no. 1 the tournament will be considered a ‘failure’.

“I want my players to realise that we are so close and we have to deliver,” Phil Neville said.

“There is no upside to defeat. Losing in a semi-final would mean nothing to me. Every single meeting, every single training session, every five-a-side we’ve had we’ve spoken about winning.

“Winning is the most important thing. We’ve done semi-finals – we have to make the next step.” Fierce words from England’s manager who has lived up-to expectations.”

Can his team live up to his expectations? One key match-up on the field that all fans are salivating over is between his star defender Lucy Bronze who will have her work cut out for her against the U.S’ co-captain Megan Rapinoe who is now equal top in the golden boot race on five goals.

American fans will be calling for an encore performance from Rapinoe who certainly put on a show against the tournament hosts, France.

“You can never rule the U.S out,” Laverty said

“It shows the level of investment now from Europe: England, who until four years ago, were not major challengers in World Cups.

“France and Germany are struggling to make semi-finals…now Spain are starting to invest in their domestic league and Italy were the real surprise packet.

“You look at the Netherlands, four years ago it was their first World Cup and they’ve got every single chance of being in the World Cup final.

“Europe is investing big in women’s football and it’s definitely showing on an international level, but the U.S are still there.” 

Fifteen matches unbeaten for the Americans and head coach Jill Ellis hasn’t lost a World Cup match.

A victory for the Lionesses would make them the first senior England team to have reached a major final since 1966.

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Louise Taffa
taffa.louise@gmail.com