The United States’ temperament has been in the spotlight – in this tournament at least – ever since they stuck 13 past Thailand and wheeled away celebrating every single goal.
The scrutiny only increased heading into the semi-final against England. Despite having won their past 10 World Cup matches, this confidence and self-belief was now being seen as arrogance.
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Are these US World Cup stars just TOO arrogant? Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan are so unpopular that even France will be backing England’. So read one Daily Mail headline, while the Telegraph opened by stating the US are “they are difficult to like, cynical, ruthless and tough to beat”.
In Lyon on Tuesday night, the US proved not only that they are indeed tough to beat, but also that this arrogance is justified.
Ten straight World Cup wins became 11, two straight appearances in the final became three, and now they are one match away from defending their crown and becoming four-time world champions. If you’re not arrogant then, then what can you be?
It did not go all the US’ way in the semi-final against England though. Christen Press’ header was cancelled out by Ellen White, and though Alex Morgan’s header put them ahead again, they could have been pegged back had Steph Houghton converted her penalty late on.
However, their experience and know-how ultimately told.
And so, while the US prepare for a final showdown against the Netherlands or Sweden, England must pick themselves up from the heartbreak of another semi-final loss.
The third-place play-off will hardly feel like it matters, but once that is done and the dust settles on England’s campaign, Phil Neville’s Lionesses must look back and view this foray in France as a harsh but valuable lesson in their continued pursuit of international football’s greatest prize.
The players will not want to, but in re-watching the final 20 minutes against the US they will re-live moments they will never, ever want to go through on the pitch again; a missed penalty, a second yellow for Millie Bright, a foul throw from Nikita Parris, and then that gut-wrenching feeling when the full-time whistle goes.
England pushed the world’s best side to the very limit, a side who have lost just once in 44 games, while beyond the pitch they have undoubtedly inspired a new generation of female footballers back home, and this impact will not be realised until they head back to English shores in the coming weeks.
Sure winning matters, and yes Neville said anything but the final would be a failure, but the Lionesses have not let down anybody. They have inspired, paved the way, and even converted *some* of the pessimists.
In one month they have drummed more support than they could ever have imagined possible, and while they have already left a legacy, they have given themselves a platform to build on in the coming months and years under Neville.
Roll on Team GB’s tilt for gold at Tokyo 2020.
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