Bronze believes hunger for final will see Lionesses home
Repeated semi-finals give craving for more Recent meetings against top sides provide hope
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