By Simon Evans
LE HAVRE, France (Reuters) – There is plenty going right for Phil Neville’s England side, who reached the last four of the World Cup with a convincing 3-0 win over Norway on Thursday, but if there is one player who is truly making the difference it is right back Lucy Bronze.
The 27-year-old scored a stunning long-range strike for England’s third goal having played a key part in creating the goals that had put the Lionesses in charge in the first half.
Her pace and power down the right, where she linked up so smartly with winger Nikita Parris, proved too much for Norway to handle and left her manager Phil Neville reaching for superlatives.
“I think we’ve seen tonight Lucy Bronze is the best player in the world, without a shadow of a doubt – with her athleticism and quality. There’s no player like her in the world. I played full back but never to that level,” said the former Manchester United and Everton player.
Bronze, who plays for European champions Olympique Lyonnais, will be back in her adopted home-town for next week’s semi-final against France or the United States and she heads there in top form as her team look to go one better than their last-four loss in 2015.
“I’ve been dreaming of playing in Lyon and getting to that semi-final again, I think all that pressure and passion came out in that strike,” Bronze said.
“I’m excited to be going to Lyon now. USA or France, they’re going to be a top team we’re going to have to raise our game another level. We’re excited to head to Lyon, get some rest and watch the rest of the quarter-finals,” she said.
Bronze had happy memories of playing Norway, given she scored a long-range winning goal in the round of 16 against the Scandinavians four years ago.
Her goal was even better this time with a quickly taken free kick from substitute Beth Mead finding her outside the area and she blasted a thunderbolt into the roof of the net.
“All the passion came out in that strike,” said Bronze.
“I was practising that one this morning. I did a few shots like that. Practice makes perfect.”
England have had plenty of practice at semi-finals — losing to Japan in Canada four years ago and being beaten by the Netherlands in the last four of Euro 2017.
But the bullish Neville is convinced a third disappointment can be avoided.
“We’re a team that’s lost in the semi-finals of the last two major tournaments. The main reason I feel I was brought into this job was to get us through a semi-final,” he said.
“This type of football will get us through a semi-final. What I said to them at the end [of the game] was: ‘are you ready to win a World Cup?’ Because we’re in it to win it.”
(Reporting by Simon Evans, editing by Ed Osmond)