England looks to overcome ‘ruthless’ U.S. in World Cup semis

LYON, France — England coach Phil Neville says the United States has a ruthless streak.

It’s one of the reasons the U.S. has never missed the semifinals at the Women’s World Cup, and why the team has three overall titles, more than any other nation.

“America has got that ruthless streak of wanting to win,” Neville said. “You saw the last five minutes of the (quarterfinal) game against France. The game management was fantastic. They took the ball into the corner, they knew what it took to win, and they celebrated like winners. That’s what I admire, and that’s what my team has now. It’s about winning.”

The third-ranked Lionesses play the defending champions Tuesday in Lyon. The winner will go on to the championship match, facing the winner of the other semifinal Wednesday between Sweden and the Netherlands.

England has never broken through to the final at the World Cup. The Lionesses fell to Japan four years ago in the semis in Canada before going on to defeat Germany in the third-place match for the team’s best tournament finish.

Neville said that’s not good enough.

“My players now want to win,” he said. “If we don’t get the right result, we’ll feel the disappointment and we’ll see that as a failure. That’s not me being negative, that’s just our expectations, and our belief and our confidence and our mindset.”

There were questions when Neville was appointed to lead the team early in 2018 because he’d never coached a women’s team. But the former Manchester United and Everton star has answered all the critics by building a team that believes it can win.

“I think we’ve shown throughout this tournament that we can go toe-to-toe with anybody,” captain Steph Houghton said.

The Lionesses head into the U.S. game with four straight shutouts in France, including a 3-0 quarterfinal victory over Norway. Jill Scott, Ellen White and Lucy Bronze each scored, with Bronze’s goal sealing it.

White, as well as Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe, has five goals each in the tournament to lead the field for the Golden Boot. Australia’s Sam Kerr also scored five, but the Matildas were eliminated in the round of 16.

Rapinoe has been particularly dangerous in the past two games, scoring twice in a 2-1 victory over Spain in the round of 16 before another brace in the 2-1 quarterfinal victory over France. The performance in Paris on Friday night came as Rapinoe was embroiled in controversy over a video that surfaced of her saying she wouldn’t visit the White House if the Americans win the World Cup. President Donald Trump subsequently called her out on Twitter.

The French peppered goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher with shots and the United States settled into a five-man backfield, something French coach Corinne Diacre said she’d never seen the top-ranked Americans do before.

The United States held firm.

Christen Press said being able to shift from the team’s normally aggressive attack to a more defensive stand is part of what makes the team ruthless.

“I would characterize it as optimism that we’re going to win. But there is a ruthlessness to this team. And that’s win at all costs,” Press said. “That means tactically adapt in a way that we never have in four years. And you have to do that to win. … It’s incredible that we could change and still be so solid.”

The United States and England have met just once before in the World Cup, a 3-0 U.S. win in the 2007 quarterfinals. But earlier this year the teams played to a 2-all tie in the SheBelieves Cup.

The Americans have been called brash and confident at this World Cup, from a resounding 13-0 victory over Thailand in the opener, to a shutout of nemesis Sweden to close the group stage, and finally to Rapinoe’s raised arms in the victory over France. Neville added ruthless to the list.

Naeher explained that it’s just a part of the team’s DNA.

“That’s the root of the U.S. women’s national team, from back to the teams from 20 years ago,” she said. “And that’s always been the U.S. mentality and that’s something that every veteran player has instilled in all the new players as we’ve come in. It’s now our job to carry that through.”

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