England captain Steph Houghton and fellow centre-back Millie Bright are “major doubts” for Thursday’s Women’s World Cup quarter-final against Norway, boss Phil Neville has said.
Houghton was hurt in the closing stages of the 3-0 last-16 victory over Cameroon on Sunday when she was caught on the ankle by a challenge from Alexandra Takounda, and Bright has been suffering with a virus.
“Both are major doubts,” Neville said of Houghton and Bright at his pre-match press conference at Le Havre’s Stade Oceane.
“Steph because of the tackle – we are hoping she takes part in some of the training today, that is the key for Steph.
“Millie has got a virus that is going a little bit through the camp so she is probably more of a doubt than Steph. We are going to give them right to the last minute to be fit.”
Abbie McManus and Leah Williamson are the potential replacements, and Neville has stressed the confidence he has in the pair.
“You guys have had an obsession with my rotation for the last 18 months,” said Neville, who confirmed Houghton and Bright were the only players whose availability was in doubt.
“The players we’ve played, it is for moments like this, (so) that we can just say ‘no problem’.
“Steph, Millie, whatever – we just bring two people in who know the system and the style and have utter belief and confidence in each other. It is a seamless transition.
“There has been a plan behind it and it’s for moments like this, where I am totally relaxed.
“I’d put my life on Leah Williamson and Abbie McManus if they are called upon to be the best two players on the pitch.”
I'd put my life on Leah Williamson and Abbie McManus if they are called upon to be the best two players on the pitchPhil Neville
A player who could be key for England on Thursday is Ellen White, scorer of four goals so far in France.
Neville said: “You talk about the top centre-forwards in the tournament and I’ve not seen anyone better. In terms of characteristics she is a (Ruud) van Nistelrooy, (Alan) Shearer, (Michael) Owen. She’s turning from a hard-working, grafting player into the predator.”
Neville said his players “don’t have fear of failure”, adding: “The bigger the occasion, the more attention – it’s what they’ve grown up wanting. It’s the bigger games that my players like.”
Norway are 12th in the world rankings, nine places below the Lionesses. They have reached the last eight without Ballon d’Or winner Ada Hegerberg, who decided in 2017 to step away from the team, unhappy with the way women’s football was being run in the country.
Neville said: “I think they tick every box. They’ve probably been the surprise team of the tournament because probably people have been focusing on the top 10 teams in the world.
“They’ve got a spirit, a togetherness, a tactical system that’s really difficult to play against, and they look like they’ve got a cause. Maybe Hegerberg not coming has given them a cause to say ‘we’re going to show the world we can win without the best player in the world.’
“We’re going to probably have to jump up 10 to 15 per cent in our performance levels to be successful in this game, and this tournament.”