LE HAVRE, France — Lucy Bronze helped set up the first two goals before completing England’s 3-0 victory over Norway with a powerful shot of her own on Thursday night, sending the team into its second straight Women’s World Cup semifinal.
After finishing third four years ago, England will now face France or the United States on Tuesday in its quest for a first women’s final.
“Their two scouts were sitting literally behind the bench,” England Coach Phil Neville said of his team’s potential opponents. “So I waved at them after the goals.”
The first goal came after only two minutes nine seconds in front of an announced crowd of more than 21,000. Bronze muscled her way down the right flank before cutting the ball back. Ellen White missed a shot, but Jill Scott was primed to strike in off the post.
White got her fifth goal of the tournament in the 40th minute. Played in by Bronze, Nikita Parris spotted White racing between the Norway center backs. White received the pass and swept it into the net.
A clever routine led to the third goal in the 57th minute. With England preparing to take a free kick on the left flank, Norway was expecting the ball to swing into the penalty area. But Beth Mead spotted Bronze arriving at the edge of the penalty area unguarded, and Bronze connected and raised the ball high into the roof of the net with a fierce shot.
“What you have seen tonight is that Lucy Bronze is the best player in the world,” Neville said. “There is no player like her in the world, no player who has her athleticism and quality. I played fullback, but never to that level she played at.”
Nodding in approval from the stands was David Beckham, who high-fived Sue Campbell, the head of women’s soccer in England.
While Beckham never made it past a quarterfinal as a player for the England men’s team, the Lionesses are now in their third successive semifinal after also making the final four at the 2017 European Championship.
Beckham, a former teammate of Neville’s at Manchester United and England, paid a visit to the team hotel in Deauville before the game with 7-year-old daughter, Harper.
“That gave them a sense over how special the performances have been,” Neville said.
A video message from retired rowing champion Katherine Grainger, Britain’s most decorated female Olympian, was played in the team meeting.
“It gave you goose bumps,” Neville said, “about what it takes to win.”
England is now two games away from winning its first major women’s title.
“I said to them in the huddle, ‘Are you ready to win a World Cup?’” Neville said.
The path to victory in Stade Océane seemed to be impeded by a virus in the camp.
Despite a worrisome update on the eve of the game from Neville about Millie Bright’s sickness, Bright made the starting lineup.
So did her central defensive partner Steph Houghton, whose status had been doubtful after she sustained an ankle injury in the round-of-16 victory over Cameroon. But she made a decisive goal-line clearance in the second half after Bright’s sloppy back pass went straight to Lisa-Marie Utland, who was nearly tripped by goalkeeper Karen Bardsley before shooting from a tight angle.
The margin of victory could have been greater had a penalty kick by Parris not been saved. After netting from the spot in the opening game against Scotland, she was also denied against Argentina in the group stage.
Neville has no qualms about keeping Parris on penalty duty.
“She is our best taker,” Neville said. “She will be beating herself up for not scoring but shouldn’t.”
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