England captain Steph Houghton feels the Lionesses delivered a performance full of intensity and heart that “showed what we’re all about” in the Women’s World Cup quarter-final victory over Norway.
Phil Neville’s side set up a semi-final clash against either hosts France or holders the United States next Tuesday in Lyon with an impressive 3-0 win at Le Havre’s Stade Oceane on Thursday night.
In the build-up to the contest, Norway defender Maria Thorisdottir had been quoted by The Guardian as saying: “I know that the English players don’t like to run that much but they are going to have to be prepared to do a few metres against us.”
Reflecting on a match that the BBC have announced set a new UK television viewing record for women’s football, being watched by a peak audience of 7.6million, Houghton said: “Our intensity in terms of our defending, when we were countering – I think they couldn’t live with us.
“Just the heart that everybody showed.
“I think there’s been a lot spoken about us and I think from the Norwegians themselves about how we don’t want to run and we don’t like running.
“But to be honest our performance showed what we’re all about.
“We want to win, we want to win big football matches. We give respect to Norway, but at the same time we wanted to win and we’ve done that.”
Jill Scott’s finish put England ahead in the third minute, Ellen White doubled the lead in the 40th and Lucy Bronze then made it 3-0 with a stunning strike just before the hour mark.
They had the chance to add a fourth with seven minutes of normal time remaining via a penalty awarded following a Thorisdottir foul on Houghton, but Nikita Parris saw her effort from 12 yards saved by Ingrid Hjelmseth.
In a fine individual display, Houghton also thwarted Norway with a cool interception in the box early in the second half, then kept out a Lisa-Marie Utland shot with a goal-line clearance shortly after Bronze’s goal.
The centre-back was caught on the ankle by a poor Alexandra Takounda tackle late on in Sunday’s 3-0 last-16 win over Cameroon, and was described as a “major doubt” for the Norway game on Wednesday morning by Neville, before taking part in training that afternoon.
Houghton stressed it had not been a case of mind games from Neville, and said: “I did everything I could (and) I’m standing here as a winning captain, leading my team into a semi-final.
“No (there were no painkillers involved), just treatment. I’m happy, I’m fit, I’m healthy and I’m ready to go again.”
The 31-year-old added: “We’ve got to take confidence in our performance. We got a clean sheet, we’ve beaten a top Norwegian team, and it could have been five or six really.”
Reaching the semis in France follows England having done so at the 2015 World Cup – their first time getting to that stage of the competition – and Euro 2017 under Neville’s predecessor Mark Sampson. On both occasions they were defeated.
Playmaker Fran Kirby said: “It’s really exciting for us. We want to go one better. We’ve been to two semi-finals and we don’t want to feel that hurt again. We have to do everything to recover.”
Former England captain David Beckham, Neville’s old team-mate, and his daughter Harper were among the crowd of 21,111 at the stadium on Thursday.
A few hours before kick-off, the players spent some time with them and ex-England striker Ian Wright, and were shown a video message from five-time Olympic rowing medallist Katherine Grainger.
Kirby said: “Obviously Becks came with his little girl and it was really special to meet her because she’s a big England fan. She came in with her England shirt on and it was really special for all of us.
“When there’s big games, Phil brings out the big guns.”
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