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Houghton trains with England but illness leaves Bright doubtful

The defensive pairing have both been struggling ahead of the World Cup quarter-final with Norway.

Steph Houghton trained fully despite an ankle knock (John Walton/PA)
Steph Houghton trained fully despite an ankle knock (John Walton/PA)

England captain Steph Houghton trained with her team-mates on Wednesday afternoon while fellow centre-back Millie Bright sat out.

Earlier in the day boss Phil Neville had said both were “major doubts” for Thursday’s Women’s World Cup quarter-final against Norway.

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 Alexandra Takounda, while Bright has been suffering with a virus.

Steph Houghton in a sprint drill during England’s training session (John Walton/PA)

Speaking at his pre-match press conference at Le Havre’s Stade Oceane, Neville said of Houghton: “(It is) because of the tackle. We are hoping she takes part in some of the training today, that is the key for Steph.”

The skipper took a full part as the Lionesses trained in front of the media at Parc des Loisirs in Touques.

Bright was not involved, with Neville having said at the press conference: “It is just a simple virus that she has picked up in the last couple of days and she’s in her room recovering.”

Every other member of Neville’s 23-player squad trained.

Leah Williamson, left, could step in if Millie Bright, right, is not fit (Richard Sellers/PA)

Abbie McManus and Leah Williamson can come in at centre-back and Neville stressed the confidence he has in them.

“You guys have had an obsession with my (squad) rotation for the last 18 months,” Neville said.

“The players we’ve played, it is for moments like this, (so) that we can just say ‘no problem’.

“We just bring 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.”

Ellen White is England’s top scorer in France (Richard Sellers/PA)

Ellen White, scorer of four goals so far in France, could be key for England.

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 England. 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 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.”

Lyon’s Ada Hegerberg, right, is sitting out Norway’s tournament (Nick Potts/PA)

Neville’s counterpart Martin Sjogren emphasised in his press conference that Norway “are not scared of England”.

He added: “We have a lot of respect for the opponent. We’ve done a good analysis of England as they have done with us surely. England are a strong team but we also have a strong team.”

England beat Norway 2-1 in the last 16 en route to coming third at the World Cup in Canada four years ago.

Norway goalkeeper Ingrid Hjelmseth said: “It would be a bit of revenge if we were to win tomorrow.

“It was a very tough match last time. But both the Norwegians and the English have been developing since then, so it’s going to be a very interesting match.”



From Belfast Telegraph