England went behind to a snorting Megan Rapinoe volleyed drive on 32 mins in Nashville’s Nissan Stadium but responded quickly to level courtesy of skipper Steph Houghton’s beautifully precise, curling strike from an indirect free-kick, three minutes later. Abbie McManus had cleared off the line in the first two minutes as the USA penned the Lionesses back from kick-off but Phil Neville’s side – which was featuring Lucy Bronze in the centre alongside Keira Walsh, with Rachel Daly at right full-back and Karen Bardsley between the sticks – did not panic and began to steady themselves in the game.
Another injection of energy at half-time (the same had happened against Brazil on Wednesday) and England silenced the 22,152 strong partisan crowd when a nice move saw Fran Kirby set Nikita Parris away down the right and she finished smartly, across Adrianna French in the U.S. goal (on 52 mins).
After a bit of pinball in the six yard area as England failed to clear a corner, Tobin Heath forced the ball over the line for an equaliser on 67 minutes. The hosts pressed for a winner and perhaps should have done better with a couple of openings (the overall shot count read 20/6 to the USA and 5/3 on target) but the Lionesses continued to present a threat going forward right until the final whistle. This was the USA’s second 2-2 draw and means that if England or Japan win their tie in Tampa on Tuesday then they take home the SheBelieves Cup.
We grabbed a quick word in the mixed zone with a couple of the impressive performers, as they left the field. Here’s some of what they had to say:
Phil instils in us confidence to get on the ball and that’s something that I pride myself on. I enjoyed the game tonight. There were times in the game when the team really passed the ball well.
[As a player] I like to keep calm and because I played them last year it gave me a bit more confidence and I knew what they are about. So I just tried to put my stamp on the game a little bit and the girls around me were supportive. If I give the ball away they are always encouraging me to get back on it. That’s something that Phil says too, keep being brave and keep getting on it, even if you’re giving it away, keep trying to do the right things.
Having Lucy Bronze next to me, having two athletic full-backs and the centre halves who were exceptional today – having great players around you really helps.
I thought we were resilient. It was a good chance [for USA] in the first few minutes of the game but we came back from that. The team seemed confident even when we were defending, we seemed assured in our jobs. We never really panicked when they had their opportunities, which was the main thing.
As a team mate at club, we [Keira and Nikita Parris] have a good partnership. I know she’s always going to be ‘on her bike’, that’s something she likes doing, running in behind. So as soon as I get the ball I look up… it was a great finish and a great team goal in the end.
And the free-kick goal wasn’t too bad. I won’t say too much about that [laughs]. No, it was a fantastic free-kick and she practices all of the time, nearly every day at training, so she deserves that one. We didn’t have a plan for it and we don’t practise them but Steph knows where she’s going to put it and she’s really confident on her free-kicks.
[If they beat Japan on Tuesday they win the SheBelieves Cup] It’s important for us heading into the World Cup, that we’ve got that confidence, that we keep moving forward and we’ve come here to win.
I really enjoyed it. It’s been a while since I have properly played right back and obviously to go against the best players in the world in the U.S. I think that’s the biggest test. I like playing right back. I just like playing!
You tend to pick up tendencies of players and last year I played quite a big stint at right-back at Houston and played against Megan Rapinoe a few times, but sometimes you’ve just got be in the moment and just play your game – I worry less about them and more about how I play and I think that showed tonight.
You go into the game with a little bit of nerves because almost everyone else is in their season [while the NWSL finished in September] but that ends up being an advantage because I’m fresh. I felt physically fit, powerful and strong. Obviously little things need to be tightened up but that will come with playing regularly, week-in and week-out.
[The USA players had the names of women who inspire them on the back of their shirts.]
If they’d let me I’d have had my mum on my shirt.*
*(We asked Steph too and she said, ‘Me mam,’ as well.)
I know Crystal Dunn is great going forward but her defensive role is not the best. I knew if I got in behind her I would be able to have at least two yards on her. She is quick, she will recover but I’m just as quick and if I’ve got two yards I’m going to go for it. In the end, Fran flicked the ball, she got stuck under the ball and I was able to get two quick touches and the goal came.
I knew whenever I saw any midfielder get their head up and have five yards of space, I know my role, get in behind. If it doesn’t come it doesn’t come, the girls will pick out the pass the next time. You can’t get frustrated you’ve just got to keep making them runs.
I’m massively proud of the girls. From the start in the game against Brazil when we went 1-0 down to here when we went 1-0 down, our responses have been unbelievable. We don’t ever get down on ourselves because we know the quality that we’ve got and in offensive moments we can cause some damage and we did that today. Obviously we are disappointed to have conceded two goals and particularly one off a set-piece but we’ll review that and leading into the World Cup I’m sure we’ll fix that.
I’m raring to go for Japan but this is a big squad of 24 players traveled, 23 can play, so I’m sure if changes need to be made they will. Everyone is pushing for that starting place. No-one can be complacent and that’s what you need in a team like England in order to push on and win a World Cup – you need everyone firing.
Someone just asked if as a defender you enjoy or hate those types of games. For me? I love it. I think getting tested by the best strikers in the world, the best team in the world and having your backs against the wall, sometimes throwing your body at things and your head at things. I think for us, we defended really, really well. We limited their chances. But going forward, we can be better and so it’s a sign of things to come for this team.
I don’t practise indirect free-kicks but the technique and how I strike the ball I practice that a lot. I knew where I was going to put it but I think Rapinoe was standing right in front of me, in my eye-line so I was like, “Could you actually move so I can have a look?” But at the same time, it’s about remaining calm in those moments and sticking to where you want to put it, a bit like a penalty. Make a decision and go for it. To get on the scoresheet is great but it would have been even better with a win.
Rach Daly came in at right-back and played really well and for Lucy Bronze to go and play that role with only a few days’ training shows what kind of player she is. We needed a bit of power and presence in there and she certainly did that.