Alex Morgan heads USA past England into Womens World Cup final

England are out of the Womens World Cup after a 2-1 semi-final defeat to USA, who remain on course to defend the title they won four years ago

They have won new friends and influenced plenty of opinions during a transformative month in France but the Rhne was swelled by English tears as Phil Nevilles Lionesses proved second best to the defending champions.


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England head to Nice for Saturdays third-place playoff after yet more semi-final disappointment but with heads held high having played their part in a wonderful game featuring some particularly harsh luck. Foremost among it was the marginal offside which saw an Ellen White goal disallowed and, later, a penalty miss by Steph Houghton.

Granted, the USA were fitter, faster and more ruthless but, well before the end, Ellis had paid Neville the compliment of shifting to five at the back.

Earlier, his first formational shift of a tournament he had set his heart on winning backfired.

If Carly Telfords replacement of Karen Bardsley, because of a hamstring injury, was enforced, the switch to 4-4-1-1 was not. This new-look configuration saw Rachel Daly deployed in front of Lucy Bronze down the right, Toni Duggan and Fran Kirby dropped, Beth Mead introduced on the left and Nikita Parris moved up front.

Not that England did too much attacking in an opening period featuring Parris persistently being forced to drop deep and track back. Neville had predicted a USA ensemble possessing a useful habit of scoring early goals would want to throw the first punch and so it transpired.

Christen Press, the injured Megan Rapinoes replacement, had a point to prove and she was already showing off a devastating change of pace before supplying USA with a 10th-minute lead. It came from a cross, Kelley OHara providing an inch-perfect right-wing delivery for Press to head home, the winger rising imperiously above Bronze, who had been caught badly out of position at the back post.

Christen Press (23) rises above Englands Lucy Bronze to open the scoring for the USA. Photograph: Maja Hitij/Getty Images

At that point England looked in severe peril of being overwhelmed. They were snatching at the ball and conceding possession far too cheaply but then Jill Elliss side momentarily seemed to lose concentration or perhaps take a breather in the 28C night-time heat.


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Sensing a rare opening, Keira Walsh quite brilliantly played in Mead with a visionary diagonal ball and her curving left-wing cross was met on the volley by Ellen Whites outstretched toe cap. The ball flew beyond Alyssa Naeher and into the bottom corner as White celebrated her sixth goal in five games.

The manner in which she had bisected the American central defenders offered England hope and Neville was ticked off for sprinting on to the pitch in jubilation.

It did not last. Telford had earlier performed wonders to deny Rose Lavelle but she had no riposte to yet another goal from a cross who said they had gone out of fashion? at the end of a classically rapid US counter-attack. This time the fabulous delivery came from Lindsey Horan whose whipped-in ball found Demi Stokes suffering a temporary lapse in focus, enabling Alex Morgan to head emphatically home.

England captain Steph Houghton (left) sees her penalty saved by USA goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher. Photograph: Denis Balibouse/Reuters

Morgan had hitherto been deceptively anonymous but her movement across a bewildered Stokes was simply bewitching and fully deserved to preface her sixth goal of the tournament.

The USA were dominant but, to Englands immense credit, they repeatedly rallied, refusing to fold. Indeed they could conceivably have gone in level at the interval had Naeher not made an acrobatic, stretching, fingertip save to divert Walshs 25-yard thunderbolt as it whizzed unerringly on its apparently inexorable trajectory towards the top corner.

If that made theories that Elliss goalkeeper was her teams weak link look distinctly fanciful, no one could argue that this semi-final was anything less than a sensational advert for the womens game. Or that Neville was right to fear the sheer physical power of this USA side.

Elliss players are not just extremely athletic, they are also extremely streetwise. An entirely typical example arrived as Jill Scott made a quintessential late dash into the box but, sensing danger, Becky Sauerbrunn threw herself to the turf and won a free-kick.

Neville is big on standing by his principles and he deserves plaudits for acknowledging he got his starting system wrong, reverting to 4-2-3-1 and introducing Kirby in the No 10 role.

An emotional Ellen White is consoled by the USAs Megan Rapinoe after the final whistle. Photograph: Elsa/Getty Images

Until then the US had been pressing England into submission, but, with Kirby suddenly confusing Elliss players by ghosting between the lines, gaps suddenly began appearing. Scott, too, appeared newly liberated.


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Walsh played a superb pass into one such space, permitting Scott to flick the ball into Whites path. The strikers left-foot finish looked to have done the rest but a VAR check decreed the goal was disallowed for the tightest of offsides against her. England had profited from a similar tight call against Cameroon in the last 16.

Heeding the warning, Ellis ordered a switch to five at the back but then Kirby slipped a pass to Stokes who crossed for White only for the striker to be sent tumbling. It looked the softest of penalties but a lengthy VAR check ensued and concluded with the less than sure-footed Brazilian referee pointing to the spot.

Houghton stepped forward but her penalty lacked power and Naeher saved down to her right before being mobbed by grateful teammates. It was the third missed penalty by England in this tournament and the one that mattered the most.

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Things unravelled further when Millie Bright was harshly sent off for a controversial second yellow card, namely clattering Morgan as those English tears flowed towards the Rhne.

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