Amid all of the controversy in the aftermath of the Cameroon clash, it should be remembered how impressive England were at times in that victory. Phil Neville’s Lionesses have reached the quarter finals of their fourth-straight World Cup after winning 3-0, and though their opponents quite clearly lost their heads, England deserve credit as they prepare to face Norway.
They started with real purpose, doing exactly what they have been for much of the tournament so far by overloading the flanks and creating space in the middle of midfield. Once again, that allowed Fran Kirby and Jill Scott the space to supply Ellen White up front, though it was a surprisingly quiet game for Nikita Parris and Toni Duggan, who started the day out wide.
But Neville will be aware of the consistent issue facing his side; their inability to keep intensity up as games go on. On this occasion, their early goal, a free-kick inside the box scored by captain Steph Houghton, probably made them too comfortable, and they will get caught out by better teams if they do not improve quickly.
Will Norway be that team? Only time will tell, but even though they don’t have the individual quality of England, France or the USA, their main strengths lie in an area of the pitch that will really open England up to danger.
While Parris and Lucy Bronze’s partnership down the right-hand side is one of the best in the world, England aren’t as effective on the left, which will give Norway a target to exploit in Alex Greenwood, who will line up directly against Norway’s star turn Caroline Graham Hansen.
Hansen, who has agreed to link up with Toni Duggan at Barcelona from Wolfsburg this summer, will pick up the ball and drive inside, a little like Parris does for England, which will also test Neville’s side’s resolve without a recognised defensive midfielder.
Though Keira Walsh’s passing range has really impressed this summer and helped keep them ticking, the lack of specific discipline has not help them combat the switch in momentum when they drop off in games. In reality, England should be looking at a semi final, but if they are not careful, they could be caught out. Here are three factors that could help decide the outcome of Norway vs England.
Can Norway stop the supply to Ellen White?
Coming into the tournament, one of Neville’s dilemmas was who to play up front. Jodie Taylor was expected to be his number one choice, but White’s form has turned her into an “undroppable” force, according to her manager. Her goal against Cameroon saw her equal Kelly Smith’s goalscoring record at a World Cup, and a fifth strike would put her out in front alone.
Funnily enough, Taylor was viewed as the more prolific of the two, while White worked harder to lead the line, but now she is doing both, England are a real threat in both approach play and inside the area.
Reiten vs Walsh – the midfield battle
While Hansen is a player previously recognised as a creative threat in the Norway side, the truth is their midfield is two-pronged. Guro Reiten pushes on from central positions and links well with her teammate to supply Isabell Herlovsen, who is a goal threat despite not yet impacting this tournament fully.
Walsh sets the tempo for England before those ahead of her can play their game, so this battle could be decisive when it comes to who comes out on top in this one.
Will Houghton be fit?
For all of the good football and impressive attacking displays this summer, England’s captain is huge to their success. She leads with her voice and by example, and without her, their chances of going all the way are significantly reduced. She was the victim of a horror tackle late on in the Cameroon clash and as a result is a doubt for this game.
She has made some telling defensive contributions, particularly in her own box as the graphic shows, and has a great partnership with Millie Bright, which Neville hasn’t been able to utilise as much as he would like. It is crucial she makes it for this game.