Phil Neville says England Women knocking on door of World Cup finals

England were beaten 2-1 by the USA in the Women's World Cup semi-finals on Tuesday

Phil Neville and Steph Houghton reflect on England Women's defeat against USA at the World Cup
Image: Phil Neville and Steph Houghton reflect on England Women's defeat against USA at the World Cup

Phil Neville says his England Women side are knocking on the door of World Cup finals, but still have a way to go to match the best.

The Lionesses suffered a heartbreaking 2-1 defeat to the USA in Tuesday's semi-final, with VAR decisions dominating the second half as England had an equaliser disallowed, a penalty saved and Millie Bright sent off.

But Neville refused to wallow in the loss and believes his side are close to being on the same level as the USA - who are ranked No 1 in the world - with an eye already on Saturday's third-place play-off.

He said: "It's about winning. I can't say to my players at the end that they were unlucky because they don't want to hear that because they wanted to win.

England Women were beaten 2-1 by the USA Women in the Women's World Cup semi-finals
Image: Ellen White and Houghton both had chances to put England level in the second half

"They're probably not listening to the words I'm saying to them in terms of being proud and leaving everything on the pitch - that's white noise to them.

"That tells me that we are closer than we have ever been because, maybe in the past, we have accepted the semi-finals and we would have got lots of plaudits but my players don't want to hear that anymore. They're sick of it and so am I. We came here to win and we didn't do that but that's sport for you.

"Good luck to America. I think they showed tonight that they know how to win games of football. The game management at the end, I thought was spectacular.

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Sky Sports' Jess Creighton assesses England Women's World Cup semi-final defeat to the USA and where the Lionesses go from here

"It was the most enthralling 90 minutes I've ever been involved with as a manager. It's where my players want to be and it's where I want to be. We are knocking on the door now.

"I think we will have to allow 24-48 hours for this to sink in and for them to get over the disappointment. No words I say to them tonight will make them feel better but in elite sport and being at the top of the world where we are with our ranking means we have to go out there in Nice and produce a performance.

"It'll tell me a lot about what my players are about. I've moved on from this already and I'm looking forward to Saturday's game to see the attitude, concentration and commitment of my players. They won't let me down because they never have.

Image: Millie Bright was sent off for England late on the second half

"I don't wallow. I won't go back to my room tonight and feel sorry for myself. It's now making us be better and getting the next two or three per cent which will make us one of the best teams in the world.

"The aim is for us to become the best, like America. We've still got a bit to go but I won't stop until we get there."

Penalty planning

Image: England Women captain Houghton missed a late penalty

England captain Steph Houghton took an 83rd-minute penalty after a lengthy VAR review, with Nikita Parris having missed the previous two at the tournament.

Speaking about the decision, Neville added: "She [Houghton] was the best penalty taker on the pitch when we won it. For six months now, we've gone into the most in-depth practice and analysis for penalties that any team has ever gone in to and then we miss three at a World Cup.

"Nikita was our top penalty taker and then she missed two goals so we spoke to Nikita and we spoke to the team and we agreed that the next best penalty taker on the pitch would take the penalty. And, over the process we have used over the last six months, was Steph Houghton.

Alex Morgan
Image: Alex Morgan scored the winner for the USA in the first half

"It wasn't just by chance or a rash decision, it was six months of 100-150 penalties that the team have taken. You scored some and you miss some, but that's football."

Houghton: I let team down

Captain Houghton could not hide her disappointment after the full-time whistle and took the blame for England's exit firmly on her own shoulders following her late penalty miss.

"I got told I was on the set pieces today and I've been practising them a lot," she told BBC Sport. "I just didn't get a good connection ... and I've let the team down.

Houghton's miss was England's third from the spot during this tournament
Image: Houghton's miss was England's third from the spot during this tournament

"I hold myself to high standards with my technique. Obviously I'm gutted and heartbroken because we were so close, but I'm proud of all the staff, I'm proud of all the players because we gave it everything."

'We must build on success'

Liverpool Women manager Vicky Jepson believes England should be proud of their achievements in France, but insists the FA must now build on the success.

"Right now, it's tough to reflect on the positives but getting to a semi-final is obviously a big positive," she told Sky Sports News. "We caused the USA many problems, but could we have done more? Absolutely but I think we can still hold our heads high and say we're proud of what we've done.

Image: Neville is already looking ahead to Saturday's third-place play-off

"We can build on it going forward in the future with young players coming into this squad who are going to be the next generation of Lionesses.

"The FA have done a lot in terms of investing in the women's game from the grassroots right the way through to the international set-up. We're in a much better place than we were and we've got to build on it.

"We've got to look at USA and how they are getting to finals every single time they are in big tournaments. We've got to start getting there and getting over the hurdles we have faced tonight."

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