The game between the United States and England took women’s football to another level. It had everything you could want in a semi-final: two VAR decisions; great goals by Ellen White (OK, with one pulled back for offside); a penalty; a penalty save; surprise line-up changes; a tactical battle between the two managers, and, unfortunately for England, heartbroken fans.
This World Cup was a turning point for the women’s game in England. The team have won a lot of respect around the world for their talent and the way they play. Since 2015 they have addressed some of the issues that have held them back for so long. The next goal if they want to really succeed is to work on the fine details that make the difference between winning and losing at the highest level.
All three goals (four, if you include the one called offside) in the game came from horrible defending. I said from the beginning of the tournament that this was not going to be a competition with fantastic defending and that’s what we got in the semi-final. England – as well as the US – obviously need to tidy up their backline but, importantly, I really want to see England convert their penalties.
Nikita Parris missed two spot-kicks during this tournament. Ellen White – who is their main goalscorer – doesn’t feel comfortable taking them. So it was up to the captain, Steph Houghton, a defender and not a specialist penalty taker, to do the right thing and step up to take the crucial kick against the US. That took courage but Steph didn’t look confident before she took the kick even if Phil Neville said after the game that England had practised hundreds of penalties. Watching from the other side of the pitch, I knew from the way she lined up in front of the ball that she was going to go to the goalkeeper’s right. That’s what goalkeepers are taught to see. Top penalty takers are also taught how to disguise which direction they will shoot. It’s these details that make the difference. To compound things, Steph also mishit the kick. There was no pace on the ball and it was not placed in the corner, making it easy for a well-trained goalkeeper to save.