After coming past a significant physical and mental test in the last 16 on Sunday, England’s women will look to take the next step in their French adventure on Thursday evening, as they face Norway in the World Cup quarter-finals at Stade Oceane in Le Havre.
Having negotiated a turbulent Second Round clash against the Indomitable Lionesses in Valenciennes, Phil Neville‘s respective English pack travel to Normandy looking for a route to next week’s semi-final in Lyon.
In what was a difficult afternoon last weekend, England triumphed in the face of roughhouse tactics and a potential boycott from Cameroon, after a controversy-laden 3-0 win, as goals from Steph Houghton, Ellen White and Alex Greenwood booked the Lionesses’ place in the last eight.
With the chance to line up in a second successive World Cup semi-final on Tuesday at Parc Olympique Lyonnais, first comes the hurdle of Norway, who themselves knocked out world number six side Australia on penalties, last time out.
Unsavoury Cameroon win
Despite sealing their quarter-final berth, England’s Lionesses are still licking their wounds after Sunday afternoon’s unsavoury encounter. After Skipper Houghton gave England the lead from a free-kick following a direct pass back to goalkeeper Annette Ndom, White’s fourth goal of the competition led to difficult scenes in Valenciennes on the stroke of half-time.
As Cameroon protested the goal as offside – an incorrect view with Nikita Parris ahead of the last defender, but not active – the game stood still as Head Coach Alain Djeumfa gestured to his side to refuse to continue, as referee Qin Liang lost control of the contest.
Ongoing rumblings on the touchline were then fueled as Cameroon had a goal ruled out – correctly – as Ajara Nchout‘s effort was chalked off, with Gabrielle Onguene receiving a through pass in on offside position, before finding the Cameroon striker.
A collective sense of injustice gripped the African side, and as England pounced on an enraged and emotional fallout, Greenwood sealed the win with a third from a corner. But as Cameroon continued to lose all discipline, a late foul on the England captain could see the Manchester City defender miss the clash with Norway.
With Millie Bright also a doubt through illness, the dual absences would be a blow to the Lionesses. But as boss Neville told BBC Sport with forthright tone, his side can cope.
“You guys have had an obsession with my rotation for the last 18 month. But it’s for moments like this.
“We can bring in two people who know the system and they have utter belief and confidence in each other. It’s a seamless transition.”
Weary Gresshoppene await
In front of England’s last four hopes, lie a Norway side who went the distance with the Matildas in Nice at the weekend. After Elise Kellond-Knight‘s leveler seven minutes from time at Allianz Riviera forced extra time for Australia, both sides went toe-to-toe in a wildly open 30-minute period.
The Grasshoppers frequently sprung the Aussie back line during the extra half hour, and had it not been for the acrobatics of Lydia Williams for the antipodeans, Norway would have ran away with the win.
The efforts of Sunday afternoon may have an effect in Le Havre, with temperatures at kick off on Thursday evening expected to be around a sultry 25 degrees. Nevertheless, Martin Sjogren‘s charges have the weapons in their arsenal to cause problems for England.
Not least in number ten Caroline Hansen, with two goals already this tournament but an elusive forward who can turn the Lionesses’ back line effortlessly, whilst the Barcelona player finds the spaces to operate.
Isabell Herlovsen netted at the weekend and will be a sizeable threat, whilst Guro Reiten‘s speed on the wing could be a thorn in paws. The game may again come down to fresh legs late in the game and with a her name on the score-sheet already in France, Lisa-Marie Utland can provide that ammunition.
Successive semi-final berth?
It will likely be a sapping evening in Normandy, but dangled before them hangs the semi-final carrot and reach the last four for the second World Cup on the bounce. In 2015, England fell to Japan in Canada, but for now, Neville will just be keen to compete in next week’s semi-final double-header in Auvergne.
Despite the Lionesses sitting nine places above their opponent in the FIFA rankings, the playing field in Le Havre will very much be level with this being the first competitive meeting between the two sides.
The main conundrum for England will be whether to deploy Beth Mead on the wing in favour of the goal-shy Toni Duggan, and in defence whether Leah Williamson can step in for the injured Houghton if need be. Regardless, both sides will be primed to book their semi-final berths and a clash with either France or the hotly fancied USA.
England’s Lionesses face Norway in the womens World Cup quarter-finals at Stade Oceane in Le Havre, France, kick off 8pm BST
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