Bronze be­lieves hunger for fi­nal will see Lionesses home

Re­peated semi-fi­nals give crav­ing for more Re­cent meet­ings against top sides pro­vide hope

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - World Cup 2019 - Ja­son Burt CHIEF FOOT­BALL COR­RE­SPON­DENT in Lyon

It will not just be a World Cup fi­nal that Eng­land will reach should they over­come the United States in the swel­ter­ing heat of Lyon this evening. It will, at last, be a psy­cho­log­i­cal bar­rier breached, not just for the women but the men who wear the Three Lions for the se­nior na­tional teams.

A se­quence in re­cent tour­nam­nents that reads: semi-fi­nal, semi­fi­nal, semi-fi­nal and, again, semi-fi­nal shows a re­mark­able level of con­sis­tency even if that is where the jour­ney has ended. For Eng­land’s men, the progress was sig­nif­i­cant in Rus­sia last year, after the hor­ror of Euro 2016 and the 2014 and 2010 World Cups, but for the women they have been here be­fore.

It is now time to push aside the dis­ap­point­ment of los­ing at this stage in 2015 and in the Euro­pean Cham­pi­onships in 2017, and it was with­out the slight­est hint of ar­ro­gance that Lucy Bronze spoke of beat­ing the world cham­pi­ons and go­ing for­ward to Sun­day’s fi­nal as something like destiny.

“We’ve had back-to-back semi­fi­nals, which is an amaz­ing feat for this team and an amaz­ing achieve­ment to be able to do it on a con­sis­tent ba­sis, but there is still that last step,” Bronze said.

“We’ve still got that hunger, and es­pe­cially now. We’ve more hunger than all the other teams be­cause we have never reached the fi­nal. Of the four teams that are left we are the only one not to reach a fi­nal – the Olympics, the World Cup, the Euro­pean Cham­pi­onships – these other three teams have reached fi­nals in re­cent years.

“So we have probably got that edge, where we are a lit­tle bit more hungry for it, we are maybe more des­tined in want­ing to go to a fi­nal in that re­spect. It def­i­nitely takes more, but who bet­ter to know that it takes more than a team who have been knocked out in two con­sec­u­tive semi-fi­nals?”

The US are favourites and No1 in the world, but as Bronze points out, the other semi-fi­nal­ists, reign­ing Euro­pean cham­pi­ons Hol­land and Rio Olympics fi­nal­ists Swe­den, have en­joyed win­ning tro­phies, while Eng­land still look back at 1966 and all that.

There has cer­tainly been a mental shift in Eng­land’s na­tional teams un­der the cur­rent regimes, with Phil Neville echo­ing much of what Gareth South­gate did last sum­mer and, in fair­ness to Mark Sampson, what was achieved by the women four years ago in Canada.

Com­par­ing the men and the women in this case is worth­while given the syn­ergy that the Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion now pur­sues, and down through the age groups, with Neville and South­gate in con­sul­ta­tion and of­fice space shared back at the head­quar­ters of St Ge­orge’s Park to cre­ate a more uni­fied ap­proach to tour­na­ment foot­ball.

But while the men are em­bark­ing on their jour­ney, one they hope will bring them suc­cess in next sum­mer’s Eu­ros and in the World Cup in Qatar in 2022, there is a sense that for the women the time is now if they can over­come the Amer­i­can chal­lenge tonight.

“We needed a few more years of play­ing and know­ing we were good enough,” Bronze said. “At the last tour­na­ment, we played a dif­fer­ent kind of foot­ball be­cause we hadn’t beaten the best. We hadn’t beaten Ger­many, we didn’t have that be­lief, we hadn’t beaten France for so long, or the US. So if we faced a top team we didn’t know how to coun­ter­act them, and if we were go­ing to be able to go toe-to-toe. This is go­ing to be our third semi-fi­nal. We play on a reg­u­lar ba­sis against the US, France and Ger­many.

“We match them in ev­ery game we play. They are al­ways tight. But we know that it can be done and I think that is go­ing to be the dif­fer­ence for us this year.”

On the pitch in Le Havre, after the im­pres­sive 3-0 quar­ter-fi­nal vic­tory over Nor­way, Neville could be seen shout­ing out a ques­tion to the cir­cle of play­ers gathered around him. “Are you ready to win a World Cup?” he asked, and while in pre­vi­ous years that may have been por­trayed as a sign of English self­im­por­tance, it felt noth­ing like that.

Eng­land and Neville – just as Eng­land and South­gate did in Rus­sia – have con­ducted them­selves su­perbly dur­ing these fi­nals, strik­ing the right note of hu­mil­ity, pro­fes­sion­al­ism, de­ter­mi­na­tion and, yes, the con­fi­dence which is a nec­es­sary in­gre­di­ent to any suc­cess­ful team – just look at the Amer­i­cans.

It will be by far Eng­land’s sternest test, which is surely why Neville has em­braced it so much, why he has even claimed it was a tie he wanted, be­cause there is no need to shy away. It is the same thought process that leads Neville to hail Bronze as the best player in the world, and while the 27-year-old has dis­puted that she has the de­sire to achieve it.

Bronze will be play­ing in her home sta­dium in Lyon, a ground where she has never lost and is also bid­ding to be­come the first player to win the Cham­pi­ons League and the World Cup in the same year. So the fi­nal word goes to her. Asked whether it was, ac­tu­ally, the US who were des­tined to win the World Cup again, she said: “I wouldn’t go along with that. I know peo­ple talk a lot about things go­ing on, off the pitch for them. We just want to beat who­ever is in front of us. And if we are go­ing to win the World Cup we are go­ing to have to do that. So we have wanted to play a team like this, to beat them and get to the fi­nal.”

De­ter­mined: Lucy Bronze, in train­ing yesterday, is con­fi­dent of vic­tory

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