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2019 Women's World Cup

Bronze: World is ‘knocking on the door’ of USWNT’s dominance

LYON — The Lionesses are back in the semifinal of a World Cup for the second tournament in a row after an own goal, and heartbreaking 2-1 loss to Japan four years ago. England are, once again, one game away from reaching the World Cup final.

Football hasn’t come home to England since 1966. The men’s and women’s teams have both endured crushing defeats on the biggest stage. If the Lionesses are going to advance to the Women’s World Cup final on Sunday, they’ll have to beat the U.S.

“I think they’re a great team,” England defender Lucy Bronze told reporters. “They’re the world No. 1 and the holders of the World Cup. They’ll always have a great team, but I think teams have started knocking on the door, getting closer, and closer. I think the competition that we have in Europe, anyone can beat anyone. That’s the way that the game is going now.”

It’s no secret that England manager Phil Neville holds Bronze in high regard. He has often come out and expressed his belief  that she is the best footballer in the women’s game, and he did so again this week. Bronze relishes the opportunity to raise her game even further against one of the best players the U.S. has ever produced.

“A couple of years ago,” Bronze recalled. “I had a list of names of players that I wanted to play against, Marta, Kelly Smith, and [Megan] Rapinoe was on there. It was a two years ago, when I first played against her. I was so excited. She’s still up there, as one of the best. Of course I’m still excited to have that challenge to be able to go toe-to-toe with one of the best.”

“It’s the reason why I play as a defender. All the best players are attackers, so I get to match-up against them on a continuous basis. I’m excited for it.”

If England are going to upset the reigning champions, there can’t be any margin of error. The back-line of Bronze, Steph Houghton, Millie Bright, and Demi Stokes will have to play the game of their lives.

Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, and Tobin Heath attack in waves. The U.S. physicality, pace, and instinctive decision making will put England under pressure. It’s whether or not the Lionesses can survive that, match the intensity the U.S. brings, and attack in transition with Ellen White, Nikita Parris, and Bronze.

As much as England has been asked about what the U.S. do well, and how they’ll hope to beat them, defenders like Bright would rather focus on what the Lionesses do well.

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“Throughout our tournament, our mentality has been to focus on ourselves,” Bright said. “No matter the opponent, we respect them. We’re also aware of their strengths, and what they can bring to the game. We focus on ourselves, and as long as we deliver, it doesn’t matter what they bring to the game.”

“I think it’s going to be a tough game. There’s going to be chances at either end, but we’re confident in ourselves that we can dominate possession, and keep the ball.”

The U.S. has always come into a World Cup or Olympics as the favorite. There’s just a swagger, and confidence that the U.S. team has always had. Going back to Hope Solo, Abby Wambach, and Christie [Rampone] Pearce. The U.S. have that intimidating factor that a lot of teams aren’t prepared for when they play them.

England don’t fear the U.S. and they certainly don’t see them as a team of destiny.

“I don’t look at them and think they’re destined to win this tournament,” Bronze explained. “A lot of the games have been quite tight, although at the beginning they played Thailand. Sweden, they didn’t play their strongest team. Spain, France, they won these games 2-1. I don’t think it’s been an easy tournament for them. To say they’re destined to win it, I wouldn’t agree with that. To win the World Cup, you’ve got to play the best teams, and we want to beat the best teams.”

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There are massive expectations set on this squad of Lionesses. They’re hungry, and they want to make history for all of England. It’s not enough to come this far, and go home. The focus is quite clear, nothing other than winning the World Cup will suffice.

In the last women’s tournament cycle, among the four World Cup quarterfinalists, U.S.A (World Cup),  Sweden (Olympics), and the Netherlands (Euro) have all been to a final. The Lionesses haven’t done that, and that’s why losing is not an option.

“I think we’re all born winners,” Bright said. “That’s our mentality. We came here to win the World Cup, and that’s still our aim. Obviously, it would be disappointing, and I think as players we would see that as potentially a failure, because our mentality has been to win it.”

“Anything less, and we would be disappointed in ourselves. Yeah, hopefully that’s not going to be the case.”

It’s bound to be a tight match, but not necessarily a cagey defensive battle. The U.S. and England both have offensive fire power that can produce timely goals. They played to an entertaining 2-2 draw at the 2019 SheBelieves Cup in Nashville, on March 2.

There’s a lot more at stake this time around. England will make history, or the U.S. will triumph. It’s time for someone to step up and lead their team to the World Cup final.

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