LYON (AFP) – England coach Phil Neville insisted his team should be proud at having given their “absolute all” at the women’s World Cup after their 2-1 defeat against holders the United States in the semi-finals on Tuesday night.
The Lionesses had been hoping to reach a first major final but instead went out in the last four in a third consecutive major tournament, with Steph Houghton’s failure to convert a late penalty costing them dear.
Instead of staying in Lyon for the final on Sunday against Sweden or the Netherlands, England must return to Nice for the third-place play-off on Saturday.
“We’ve no regrets, we lost the game. We’ve come to the World Cup and given our absolute all,” said Neville, who revealed he told his players at full-time to smile rather than cry.
“We’ve had the best 46 days of our lives and we didn’t want it to end and it’s not ended yet. We want to go on Saturday and beat Sweden or Holland.”
England had felt they could compete with the holders, and they recovered from falling behind to Christen Press’ early opener as Ellen White netted her sixth goal of the tournament in the 19th minute.
However, Alex Morgan restored the USA’s lead just after the half-hour mark, and video assistant referee (VAR) took centre stage in the second half.
White saw another goal disallowed for a marginal offside call following one review, before Neville’s team were awarded a spot-kick following another VAR intervention which deemed White had been fouled by Becky Sauerbrunn.
After Nikita Parris had missed England’s last two spot-kicks, against Argentina and Norway, captain Houghton stepped up in the 84th minute but had her attempt from 12 yards saved by Alyssa Naeher.
Neville, who defended the decision to let Houghton take the spot-kick, also praised Jill Ellis’ side as the USA become the first team to reach three successive women’s World Cup finals.
“We came here to win and we didn’t do that, but that’s sport for you. Good luck to America – they showed tonight that they know what it takes to win games of football,” said the former Manchester United and Everton player.
“It was the most enthralling 90 minutes I’ve been involved in as a manager. It’s where my players want to be and it’s where I want to be, and we are knocking at the door now.”
Neville was appointed in early 2018 with the brief of taking England the extra step after they suffered a painful defeat in the semi-finals of the 2015 World Cup and then lost at the same stage of Euro 2017.
However, he said he had immediately turned his thoughts to the future, with England’s World Cup run meaning a Great Britain team will go to the Tokyo Olympics next year. England will then host the next Euros in 2021.
“The minute the game finished, my first thought was how do we win on Saturday, and my second thought was how do we win Olympic gold, and then how do we win the Euros in 2021,” he said.
“I don’t wallow, I won’t go back to my room tonight and feel sorry for myself.
“The aim is to become the best, like America. We’ve still got a bit to go but I won’t stop until we get there.”
In the meantime he must try to lift his players for the third-place play-off, with England still having the chance to claim bronze at a second straight World Cup.
“Before the game it was the furthest thing from my mind going back down to Nice, but now I’ve moved on from this already and now I’m looking forward to Saturday’s game to see, because we’ve got a three-year plan,” he said.