Despite the soaring temperature in Ottawa on Monday evening, England kept a cool head to come from a goal down against Norway to reach the quarter-finals of the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup with a 2-1 victory.
On the face of it, it was a match that England were always favourites to win. Norway are ranked 11th in the world compared to England up in sixth, but the finalists of the 2013 European Championships were never going to be an easy challenge to overcome, especially with history going against the Lionesses.
In three previous tournaments, England were eliminated at the first knockout stage. They had also never beaten a European team at any World Cup. To reach the quarter-finals, they would have to do both.
The opening 45 minutes were not a pretty watch. Similar to the opening game against France, Mark Sampson set up his team to play 4-1-4-1—leaving Manchester City’s Toni Duggan to run the channels on her own, looking to force Norway’s defence into a mistake and give her team-mates an outlet to help get out of their own half.
England’s passing was poor. Their play was too rushed and they needed a little more patience on the ball instead of instantly looking to find a killer pass. England were giving the ball away cheaply and inviting waves of Norwegian pressure.
One change that Sampson made from the 2-1 win over Colombia was the return of Lucy Bronze to right-back. This was evidently to combat the power and pace of Norway’s 19-year-old striker, Ada Hegerberg, and it worked to perfection. Able to match her speed and physical strength, Bronze kept the forward quiet for most of the game.
Whenever Hegerberg did get the better of the Manchester City defender, Bronze was able to recover and get back into position.
For all of Norway’s possession, they were not able to make it count in the first half and England were fairly comfortable in dealing with their direct style. With the sun beating down, and England’s position of having more professional players on the pitch, it was clear to see that Sampson was playing the long game, hoping that fitness and the conditions would give his side the upper hand in the second half.
Sampson made his move with 36 minutes to go and it quickly backfired. Just as Norway won a corner, England brought on Jill Scott for Fran Kirby before the corner was taken and Solveig Gulbrandsen was on hand to flick her near-post header off the crossbar and over the goal line. Just as England were about to take the game to the Scandinavians, they were 1-0 down.
However, the change saw England up the tempo and they finally began to push forward, the addition of Scott bringing more power and pace to the attack. Six minutes later England were level, captain Steph Houghton rising high at the back post to head the ball perfectly across goal, finding the far corner.
After her tiring effort up front on her own, Duggan was replaced by Portland Thorns striker Jodie Taylor and instantly her drive and pace made an impact. She burst down the right and linked up well with Scott before turning the ball back towards Bronze free on the edge of the box.
Urged to shoot more from distance, the defender unleashed an unstoppable shoot that found the top corner and saw England take a deserved lead with 14 minutes to go. Sampson had changed the game with his subs and tactics and Norway had no answer.
“After England tied, we stressed for no reason,” said Norway coach Even Pellerud after the game to FIFA.com. “The play on the ball was not as precise and decisive as in the first half. Compliments to my English colleague who made some good tactical changes at half-time. This is a hard way to lose, it's very disappointing for all of us.”
England now travel to Vancouver to take on the hosts Canada for a place in the semi-finals. It’s a position the team has been in before with three previous quarter-finals appearances in past World Cups, but they have never been there after winning a knockout game and showing so much belief.
“The first emotion I'm feeling is a sense of pride for the team,” Sampson told FIFA.com after the game. “To show that kind of resilience, to come back from a goal down, the players have been immense with their character to come back in that game.”
The pressure is now off the England team. They have made history and the host nation will be expected to go all the way by a packed BC Place stadium. This might just be the first chapter in the Lionesses rewriting the history books this summer.