Lucy Bronze and Steph Houghton scored as England came from behind against Norway to win a knockout match at the Women’s World Cup for the first time in their history.
Norway took the lead in the Round of 16 match ten minutes after half time when Solveig Gulbrandsen sent a glancing header past England keeper, Karen Bardsley, who had given the corner away by pushing a shot behind that looked to be on course to go a long way wide of the target. The equaliser came in similar fashion, with Houghton, the England captain, guiding Fara Williams’ corner in via the inside of the post. Bronze scored one of the goals of the tournament in the act of hitting the winner, with a thunderous strike from 25 yards out, which Norway keeper, Ingrid Hjelmseth, could only help on its way into the top corner.
England have reached the quarter finals of the Women’s World Cup before, with that round historically being the first knockout round. This edition of the tournament, however, is the first to be expanded from 16 teams to 24, so now a Round of 16 tie must be negotiated to seal a place in the last eight.
Throughout a tight first half England’s win looked far from certain, as manager Mark Sampson’s pragmatic approach to the game allowed Norway to enjoy long spells of possession, and have the best of the chances early on. Bronze may have been her country’s hero in the end, but she was fortunate in the first half when her poorly attempted back pass to Bardsley fell short, allowing Ada Hegerberg to fire in a shot that proved to be an easy one to save for the England keeper. Bronze had attempted to atone for her error by bringing down the Norwegian forward, but Hegerberg showed immense strength and honesty to stay on her feet and get the shot away, despite the possibility of being awarded a penalty if she had chosen to go down.
The second half began much more brightly for England, with a return the urgency and dynamism on show in the Lionesses’ 2-1 victory against Colombia in their final group game. In conceding the opener, England fell victim to an old football adage by making a substitution while defending that corner and promptly falling behind. Though the timing of the change was unwise, the choice of player brought on, Jill Scott, was a stroke of genius from Sampson. The Manchester City midfielder took to the field in an unfamiliar position on the right wing, but swung the balance of play firmly in England’s favour. Her good work forced the corner that produced Houghton’s equaliser, and her determination drove the team forward from the moment she came on.
Ultimately, England were indebted to Scott’s Manchester City team mates Houghton and Bronze, as the two defenders provided the crucial goals. Next up for Sampson’s side is a quarter final tie with the host nation, Canada, who have among their ranks the third highest scoring international player of all time, Christine Sinclair, who has played over 200 games for her country and found the back of the net over 150 times.