Five Chelsea Women representatives Millie Bright, Fran Kirby, Maren Mjelde, Maria Thorisdottir and Guro Reiten all featured in tonight’s quarter-final, but it is England who progress further in the World Cup after an emphatic 3-0 victory.
England’s Lionesses put out a real statement this evening in Le Havre to potential semi-final opponents France and the USA when they secured a semi-final spot against the 1995 world champions with an assertive display.
Phil Neville’s side scored early on which set them on their way. Jill Scott tapped in from close range and their lead was extended when Ellen White poked past the Norwegian goalkeeper. Lucy Bronze capped off the win when she fired home mid-way through the second half.
The two teams have met each other 18 times in total, with Norway winning on 12 occasions. England have had four victories and they have drawn twice previously. The last time the sides came head-to-head was at the knockout stage of the 2015 World Cup edition when England edged Norway 2-1. Several Scandinavian players remain in the team, including Mjelde and Thorisdottir, and would have liked to banish the ghosts of 2015.
The Norwegians finished as runners-up of Group A behind hosts France, with their only defeat coming against Les Bleues. They reached this point of the tournament after knocking out Australia in a dramatic penalty shootout. The Lionesses topped Group D after winning all of their group games, and they then beat Cameroon 3-0 in their last-16 match to confirm a place in the quarter-final.
Between the two sides, five Chelsea players started the match. Norway named an unchanged side from their terrific last-16 victory over the Matildas – Mjelde captained the team and was stationed at centre-back alongside Thorisdottir and our latest signing, Reiten, played out on the left of midfield.
England made just one change from their round of 16 game against Cameroon, and Alex Greenwood made way for Demi Stokes at left-back. Despite Phil Neville informing the media yesterday that Millie Bright was a ‘major doubt’ for tonight due to a viral illness which had spread around the camp, she started at the back with Captain Steph Houghton. Fran Kirby remained in the line-up, while Karen Carney and Carly Telford were unused substitutes.
It took a matter of minutes for the scoring to be opened when Lyon's Bronze powered down the right wing and outmuscled Kristine Minde to deliver a low cross into the box. Her cross found its way to White who appeared to miss-kick the ball and Scott was on hand behind her to slot her effort perfectly into the bottom corner.
England were banging on Norway’s door for a second with their direct and purposeful style of play and came close on two occasions. Firstly Parris blazed her effort over the crossbar, and a White attempt bounced off the far post, which was a big let off for Norway at that point.
A great chance was missed for the Gresshoppene on the 30-minute marker when Reiten shot from the edge of the box, but Bright blocked her effort at the last second.
England doubled their advantage close to the break when White scored her fifth of the tournament. Parris found space down the right flank and cut the ball to the no.18 who slipped between Mjelde and Thorisdottir and tapped home from close range past Ingrid Hjelmseth in the Norway goal.
White almost immediately struck again but Blues’ defensive duo, Mjelde and Thorisdottir, who have been solid throughout Norway’s World Cup campaign doubled-up to mark their territory and deny the striker from netting a second.
Despite a much better second-half display by the Norwegians, England extended their lead which meant that the Scandinavians were facing an uphill battle for the remaining half hour.
Bronze, who netted her last goal for England at a World Cup against these exact opponents in 2015, finished superbly when Beth Mead pulled back her free-kick to the edge of the box for the no.2 to fire in between the gloves of the goalkeeper.
Norway continued to get numbers forward to find a route back into the game, and Lisa-Marie Utland almost punished the Lionesses when she unleashed an arrow of a shot due to a defensive error made by Bright.
England had a chance to stretch their lead in the closing stages of the game when Thorisdottir appeared to push Houghton in the penalty area, and the referee made no hesitation in pointing to the spot. Parris, who has scored one and missed one penalty, stepped up to take the spot-kick and missed when Hjelmseth flung herself to her right and batted the ball away.
England produced a strong performance, and Norway were outclassed by the Lionesses’ clinical attacking prowess. The Scandinavians will certainly feel hard done by tonight as they were presented with several good chances which they failed to take advantage of.
Next up for England is either the tournament hosts France or the current World Cup champions the USA in the semi-final on Tuesday 2 July in Lyon.