The first of the France 2019 semi-finals pits USA against yet another pretender to their throne, and this test could well be the holders' stiffest yet. England have improved with each passing game in this FIFA Women’s World Cup™ and, having drawn with the Americans en route to winning the SheBelieves Cup in March, will not be intimidated or overawed.
All the same, no-one questions that the US - three-time champions who have won their last ten matches at this tournament - start as favourites to reach a record fifth Final. Formidable as the Lionesses are, Jill Ellis’s side have a habit of rising to the big occasion. If England are to make history of their own by reaching the decider for the first time, they will almost certainly need to put in the performance of their lives.
The Lionesses know this is their biggest test yet at France 2019, with danger posed by USA in all areas of the field. Phil Neville’s 4-2-3-1 system will no doubt provide the basis for England's game plan, with Millie Bright and Steph Houghton drilled on handling Alex Morgan’s pace, and Lucy Bronze and Nikita Parris tasked with containing the American's dangerous left-sided pairing of Megan Rapinoe and Crystal Dunn. Bronze will also be instructed not to hesitate if she has a chance to drive forward, as she did so successfully against Norway. Game management and being prepared for any eventuality will be key for England. Parris has been practising penalties, while set-play rehearsals have been high on the agenda in training. The Lionesses know they will need to be fearless and ruthless to come out on top in this one.
Although the match against France was one for the ages, that victory at the Parc des Princes has already been consigned to the past by USA. Head coach Jill Ellis said that, while they took a moment to celebrate right after the match, soon it was back to the regular recovery plan - with the focus shifted immediately to England. With a dangerous Lionesses attack coming at them, the US will need their defence - marshalled by goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher and veteran centre-half Becky Sauerbrunn - to emulate the performance they produced against France. This semi-final pits together two attack-minded teams, so it should be another fun battle between the two extremely talented squads.
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