When USA beat France in the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup quarter-finals, there was widespread agreement that – in terms of quality, tempo and atmosphere – a new standard had been set. The question was whether anything still to come in the tournament could match or surpass it.
The answer was provided just four days later, when the Americans served up another modern-day classic, this time with the help of England.
Again, the US emerged triumphant. But even Phil Neville, the defeated Lionesses manager, lauded the game as “the most enthralling 90 minutes I’ve been involved in as a manager”.
England 1-2 USA
2 July 2019, Stade de Lyon, Lyon
Scorers: England (White 19), USA (Press 10, Morgan 31)
England: Telford, Bronze, Houghton, Bright, Stokes, Parris, Walsh (Moore 71), Scott, Daly (Stanway 89), White, Mead (Kirby 58)
USA: Naeher, Sauerbrunn, O’Hara (Krieger 87), Dahlkemper, Ertz, Horan (Mewis 65), Morgan, Lavelle, Heath (Lloyd 80), Dunn, Press
USA went into the match as holders and favourites, and with morale further boosted by that spectacular victory over the hosts in the previous round.
But England had cruised through the tournament, topping their group before demolishing Norway 3-0 in the last eight. The Lionesses fancied their chances of an upset, too, having won the SheBelieves Cup on US soil just a few months earlier.
Ultimately, the game was settled by three goals inside a frantic 21-minute spell midway through the first half. But those efforts – unstoppable headers from Christen Press and Alex Morgan either side of a clinical Ellen White finish – told only a fraction of the story.
A tense and evenly-matched encounter produced excitement, high-quality football, tough tackling, a fantastic atmosphere and, as the clock ticked down, a red card for England’s Millie Bright. VAR was also prominent, adding to the drama by first ruling out a second-half equaliser from the in-form White and then awarding a 78th-minute penalty following a challenge on the same player.
But Alyssa Naeher guessed right to save the spot kick from England captain Steph Houghton, and from that moment the Lionesses seemed to sense that the writing was on the wall.
Morgan dominated the following day’s headlines, having followed up scoring the winner on her 30th birthday with a cheeky tea-drinking celebration. But it was Naeher who garnered most praise.
Morgan herself led the tributes, in fact, saying bluntly: “Alyssa Naeher should be the player of the match today. She saved our butts.”
What they said
“The theme of the tournament is ‘Dare to Shine’, and I said to my team, ‘We are going to shine the brightest’. We’ve had less days of rest than probably anyone, and the hardest route to a final that a team has maybe ever taken. But we found a way, and I attribute that to mental strength. We’re here for one thing, and that’s to win the trophy.”
Jill Ellis, USA head coach
“I thought the way we lost was exactly the way we wanted to play. The courage they had to play football and keep going, to battle; they left everything out there. No regrets. We gave it our absolute all. [But] it’s about winning. I can’t say to my players, ‘unlucky’. We came here to win and we didn’t do that. Good luck to the USA. They showed they know what it takes to win football matches. Their game management was spectacular.”
Phil Neville, England manager
“England had a great game. Alyssa Naeher came out huge for us on the penalty save. This team has had so much thrown at us. I saw all my team-mates being so emotional, and I know it means so much to us. We’ve put so much into this journey together.”
Alex Morgan, USA forward
What happened next
Having seen off Sweden, France and England, USA looked unstoppable and went into their final with the Netherlands as heavy favourites. That tag was duly justified by a comfortable 2-0 victory that secured the Americans’ fourth Women’s World Cup crown, cementing their position as the tournament’s most successful team.
The Lionesses, on the other hand, seemed unable to recover from their semi-final disappointment and limped out of the tournament with a 2-1 defeat to Sweden in the third-place play-off.