England boss Phil Neville expressed his pride in his players following the dramatic 2-1 Women’s World Cup semi-final loss to the United States in Lyon.
After Christen Press’ early opener for the US, Ellen White’s equaliser, and what proved the winner from Alex Morgan, England thought they had equalised midway through the second half through White, only for the effort to be disallowed on a marginal offside call following a VAR check.
The Lionesses were then aided by VAR as they were awarded an 84th-minute penalty, but captain Steph Houghton saw her effort saved by Alyssa Naeher. They subsequently finished the game with 10 players after Millie Bright was sent off.
Neville was asked afterwards what he had said to his players in his post-match huddle, and he said: “I didn’t want to see tears. You lose, but I thought the way we lost is exactly the way I wanted us to play.
“The courage they had to play football and keep going and battle – they left everything out there. We have no regrets. We’ve come to the World Cup and given it our absolute all, and that’s what I said to them.
“I didn’t want to see tears – there should be smiles. We’ve had best 46 days of our life and it’s not ended yet.”
England will now face either Holland or Sweden in Saturday’s play-off for third place.
They have suffered three successive semi-final defeats at major tournaments.
Neville added: “I can’t say to my players at the end unlucky, because they don’t want to hear that, they wanted to win.
“They’re not listening probably to the words I’m saying to them in terms of I’m proud of them, they left their hearts and souls on the pitch – that’s white noise to them. Because they wanted to win.
“That tells me we are closer than we have ever been. Maybe in the past we’ve accepted ‘semi-final, we’re going home and we’ll get plaudits’. But my players don’t want to hear that any more. They’re sick of it, and so am I. We came here to win and we didn’t do that.
“I think we’ll have to allow 24 to 48 hours for this to sink in, for them to get over the disappointment. No words I can say to them tonight will make them feel better.
“But elite sport means that on Saturday in Nice we have to go out there and produce a performance. It will tell me a lot about what my players are about.”
Houghton stepped up to take the penalty with Nikita Parris having already had two saved in the tournament.
Neville said “no blame should be attached” to Houghton, and when asked about the decision to give her penalty duties, he spoke about an “in-depth practice and analysis process” England had done with spot-kicks, and said: “Nikita was our number one penalty-taker, and then she missed two.
“We spoke to her and the team and we agreed the next-best penalty taker on the pitch would take the penalty, and that, through the process we’ve done, was Steph Houghton. It wasn’t just by chance.”
Houghton told BBC Sport she was “gutted” and felt she had “let the team down”, but added: “We’ve got to go and try and get a bronze medal now.”
She said: “I hold myself to high standards with my technique… Obviously gutted and heartbroken because we were so close, but I’m proud of all the staff, I’m proud of all the players because we gave it everything.”
In the build-up to the game there had been questions put to the US, the defending champions, about whether they had been showing signs of arrogance, and relating to a visit made by at least one member of their staff to England’s team hotel on Sunday.
Boss Jill Ellis said in her post-match press conference: “It goes back to the mindset. We’re here for one thing. Not external noise. We’re here to win the trophy. So everything we talk about and focus on is about that.
“When you are the premier team, you’re always going to have noise, external stuff, to deal with.
“But I’m around the players a fair bit and the conversations I hear are about the game. I think they are professionals.”
Ellis also confirmed forward Megan Rapinoe had sat out the contest due to a “slight strain to her hamstring”.