IAN HERBERT: The Lionesses stand on the brink of glory

IAN HERBERT: Blood seeping through their socks, England ran the show and silenced the partisan Australia crowd… now the Lionesses stand on the brink of World Cup glory

  • England reached the World Cup final with a 3-1 win over hosts Australia
  • The Lionesses are now on the brink of glory with only Spain standing in their way 
  • WATCH: ‘It’s All Kicking Off’ – Episode 1 – Mail Sport’s brand new football show

It was something Lucy Bronze said as she walked towards the stadium exit, blood seeping through one her socks, which most resonated about this England team, now standing on the brink of history.

Had she ever watched any World Cup finals? Bronze was asked. ‘No,’ she replied. ‘I was playing outside.’ And she wasn’t the only one. Jess Carter, the defender who has been an unexpected pillar of the team, gave the exact same answer to the same question. ‘I was probably out playing football, more than I was watching it.’

There will be much talk of 1966 and all that in the days before Sunday but Wembley, Hurst and the frustrated attempts to emulate them are not a reference point for these players, who have done what they have done, reached the peak of a World Cup final without the motivation of seeing individuals like themselves reflected back from a TV screen.

It’s love of this game alone, for them. Such a love that they have actively sought it out, in boys’ teams a lot of the time, girls’ teams when they got a little older, travelling many miles to find a place to play. For Bronze, it was a three-hour round trip from Berwick to Sunderland. For Georgia Stanway, something similar: Barrow to Blackburn.

It would have been gratifying for them to have enjoyed the same chances as the boys. Just as it would be nice for the 11-year-old girls team currently playing at one of the most popular clubs in north London to practice on the Astroturf pitches, rather than hard surface of the gym where they graze their knees if they fall. The resources the Government talks about is not filtering down to those girls who need it.

The Lionesses are on the brink of World Cup glory after defeating Australia in the semi-finals

Alessia Russo scored the third goal in a 3-1 win, with Spain standing in their way of the trophy

England overcame a brief period of terrible jeopardy to earn their spot in Sunday’s final

But the journey made this group of England players stronger, shielded them from ego and the self-absorption, kept them honest, gave them perspective and shut out the fear which can be so suffocating for those men’s teams who have tried to live up to ’66. Carter only started playing the game seriously at 16. She has perspective. A hinterland.

There was an enormous moment here on Wednesday which you were programmed to think, from a very English football perspective, would bring the roof in on the semi-final. Australia’s stellar talent Sam Kerr exploded across the surface of the game, taking the ball from the half way line to within 25 yards of goal and scoring. She drove at England, again and again, in a brief period of terrible jeopardy.

You can coach and prepare a team until the end of time, though what can’t be taught is the ice-cold belief in bad moments like that. A conviction that the hours of effort, rehearsal and preparation that mean players know they are equipped and have the skills. England had that conviction. They simply got back to their process.

Kerr bringing Australia level revealed the brutal danger she posed to Millie Bright, England’s captain and centre half, who backed off, failed to engage, invited the shot and was punished for it. But within minutes, Bright was dropping one of the 40-yard diagonals which have become a part of England’s weaponry in to Lauren Hemp, who bullied Ellie Carpenter into an error and scored. And then Hemp, the mainstay of this team, was producing a moment which will live as long in the memory as Kerr’s: a reverse pass of quite exquisite beauty to send in Alessia Russo to score.

It helped that Australia were so much a one-woman team, with some terribly poor defending and dire final passes at times. It helped that Kerr’s appearance from the start seemed to scramble the forwards who had performed in her absence. That Kerr spurned two chances – a header and a shot levered high over the bar.

But England ran the show, silencing the partisan crowd, cutting off Kerr’s supply line and finding that presence of mind in the low moment, which deconstructed the age-old England narrative.

Winning last year’s European Championships has certainly helped them. ‘That gave us a huge amount of confidence,’ Bronze related. So has the bumpy journey here – the injuries, difficult games, the red card and suspension imposed on Lauren James, which have all fostered a siege mentality.

Blood seeped through the socks of Lucy Bronze (No 2) after the game, which when asked about how she suffered it she simply responded ‘Australians’

Sarina Wiegman hopes to lead England to more success after their Euro 2022 triumph

England ran the show and were able to silence the partisan Australian crowd on Wednesday

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You needed to be there, listening to Bronze as she stood in her bloody sock, to appreciate that England really didn’t have a plan for Kerr beyond sticking to the football they believe makes them winners. ‘We didn’t have someone running around after Sam Kerr in the game,’ she said. ‘I know she’s a fantastic player but we’ve got 11 of those on the pitch. We just had to play our own game. That’s what we did. And that’s why we won.’

And you probably needed to be in the team huddle at the end to feel what this first World Cup final means for players, like Bronze, who have travelled the hard yards. She was jumping so much that Wiegman had to urge her to stop. ‘We need to get ready for the next game. Let the kids do it,’ the coach said.

There is one form of equivalence with England’s men that she and older players seek – the star across their chest that all World Cup winners carry. ‘We’d like to have that,’ she said. Bronze was planning to get her ankle sorted first. So what had caused the bleeding? ‘I don’t know,’ she said. ‘Australians.’

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