Phil Neville says Tuesday’s Women’s World Cup semi-final against the United States is a game England “have to win” – and is confident they will.
The Lionesses will be in the final of the competition for the first time if they can get past the defending champions at Lyon’s Groupama Stadium.
England were beaten in the semi-finals of the 2015 World Cup and Euro 2017.
Neville, who succeeded Mark Sampson as boss in January 2018, said: “I think we’re at that moment now where we can’t hide away from the fact that getting to a World Cup final is so close.
“We’ve spoken long and hard about this for the last 12 months, about getting to this moment and delivering.
“What I want my players to do is realise they are so close and that we have to go out there and deliver. Losing in a semi-final will mean nothing to me. We have to win.
“Every single training session, every single meeting, we’ve spoken about winning. Every five-a-side we have, winning is the most important thing.
“We take pictures of the winning team and the rest of the players have to watch, because it’s about winning and that’s the mentality we’ve brought in.”
Earlier this year England won the four-team SheBelieves Cup for the first time, a campaign that included a 2-2 draw with hosts the US.
And Neville said: “SheBelieves was my big moment, where we had to get on that platform and hold that trophy, get that medal around your neck.
“My first one (trophy as a Manchester United player), I won the league at Middlesbrough and I wore my medal for the next two or three days, because you think, ‘I want this again’, and the best want it again and again.
“My players now have to become serial winners, like the USA. We’ve been a semi-final team and now we have to make that next step and become a final team.”
The 42-year-old added: “We have gathered momentum, and now the players have to go out and deliver.
“This is the moment I believe that I was brought into the job for. And I believe my philosophy, my values, the way I am, will get us that victory.”
Neville says he knows his players are ready because of the “look in their eyes”.
“They’ve got ice running through their veins,” he added.
And he has spoken about the sense of togetherness that he can “smell” in the group, with January’s training camp in Qatar vital to that.
“I’ve played in successful teams and you smell it,” Neville said.
“When dinner finishes and you’re playing in teams that are not together, they go up to their rooms. My players sit around the eating room, playing music, laughing, joking, and you just think, ‘We’ve got something here’. Tomorrow night we need to prove that.
“We had a real big moment when we got beaten by Sweden (2-0 last November). My Christmas was ruined because of that game. It wasn’t the performance of losing, it was the fact I didn’t have that smell.
“We took them to Qatar and we literally got them together. We took them to the desert, we had a night out, the players took me out for my birthday. That particular night was the moment when I turned to my assistant (Bev Priestman) and said, ‘We’ve got it now’, because we came together.
“Sweden was the best thing that ever happened to us because it kicked us up the backside. Then we went to Qatar and came together as a team. We laid everything on the table. There was a lot of honest conversations and we came out of Qatar and won SheBelieves. And from then on we’ve been like a steam train.”
When it was put to Neville that honest conversations could go one of two ways, he said: “But when the common goal, the common vision, is winning…
“We have a three-year plan – win the World Cup, win the Olympics, win the Euros – and when the common vision is the same and the agreement is we want to create a legacy and win a World Cup then everything else falls into place.
“If the players didn’t have that belief, if they thought a semi-final was their utopia, we would have left them off the journey.
“But the common goal is now put egos to one side, individual goals and Golden Boots. It’s just about winning.”
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