Belfast Telegraph

England will cope with injury setbacks for World Cup quarter-final, vows Neville

 

Fitness test: England captain Steph Houghton during training yesterday
Fitness test: England captain Steph Houghton during training yesterday

By Phil Medlicott

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

Earlier in the day boss Phil Neville had said both were "major doubts" for tonight'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.

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.

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, 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."

Neville's counterpart Martin Sjogren emphasised that Norway "are not scared of England".

Sjogren said: "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," he added.

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.

"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."

Meanwhile, Fifa has opened disciplinary proceedings against Cameroon following their behaviour in Sunday's match against England.

Cameroon on two occasions remonstrated with the officials at length and looked as if they might not continue playing after Video Assistant Referee decisions went against them during the contest in Valenciennes.

A Fifa spokesperson said yesterday: "Following the round of 16 match between Cameroon and England on June 23 at the Fifa Women's World Cup, we can confirm that proceedings have now been opened by the Fifa Disciplinary Committee against the Cameroonian Football Association for alleged breaches related to article 52 (team misconduct) and article 57 (offensive behaviour and fair play) of the Fifa Disciplinary Code.

"As proceedings are now ongoing, please understand that no further comment can be made at this stage.

"Further updates will be provided in due course."

An ill-tempered game at the Stade du Hainaut also saw yellow cards issued to Cameroon's Yvonne Leuko after she caught Nikita Parris in the face with an elbow, and Takounda for a poor challenge on Houghton.

There was also an incident in which England's Toni Duggan had her arm spat on by Augustine Ejangue.

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