- England coach Phil Neville reflects on 2-1 semi-final defeat by USA
- “Nothing I say can make them feel better”
- Lionesses will look to retain bronze medal in match for third place
By Laure James with England
The moment the final whistle went in England’s 2-1 semi-final defeat by the USA, Phil Neville’s thoughts immediately turned to how to win on Saturday. Yet his players emerged through the tunnel crestfallen, having left everything they had on the pitch, and will need time before they recover mentally for the match for third place.
This, however, is to their credit, having matched the USA in terms of athleticism and physicality for much of the game. Now, England will assess how to match their own achievements at Canada 2015 to ensure they return home with a medal.
The Lionesses battled to contain their nerves in the early part of the game, while USA marauded forward, taking an early lead as all knew they were capable of. The resilience, tenacity and authority England had shown throughout the World Cup were partly eclipsed against the backdrop of this enormous occasion, while a disallowed goal, a saved penalty and a red card contributed to this deflating, and all too familiar story of semi-final defeat.
“We will have to allow 24 to 48 hours for this to sink in and for them to get over this,” Neville said after the game. “Nothing I say can make them feel better. We have to go to Nice and we have to go again, and that will tell me a lot about what my players are about.
“I can’t say to my players at the end, ‘unlucky’, neither can I say that I’m proud of them, that they left their hearts on the pitch. That’s white noise to them because they wanted to win.”
However, England have shown growth despite suffering a similar fate four years ago. Neville however claimed to have shelved the disappointment immediately, clicking into auto-pilot as the guardian of England’s future success. “As soon as the whistle went, my first thought was. ‘how do we win on Saturday?’,” he said.
The mental preparation for the play-off will be half the battle, as England revive themselves to finish their World Cup adventure on a high. The depth in their squad will provide freshness, while they will concentrate on retaining possession, which has been a priority in training for months. They refused to lie down against the holders, and they will have to show that same fight in order to retain the bronze.
“You lose, but I thought the way we lost was exactly the way I wanted to play,” Neville continued. “I said, win or lose, I want us to play a certain style. The courage they had to play football, to keep going and to battle was outstanding. We have no regrets, absolutely no regrets. We came here to the World Cup and gave it everything we have. I don’t want to see tears. There should be smiles. We’ve had the best 46 days of our lives. We didn’t want it to end, and it hasn’t ended yet.”