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Dublin: 11°C Friday 16 April 2021

Neville defends captain after penalty miss in World Cup defeat and says referee 'not in control' of game

The manager had nothing but praise for Steph Houghton as England bowed out at the semi-final stage.

Neville consoles Houghton after the full-time whistle.
Neville consoles Houghton after the full-time whistle.
Image: Richard Sellers

ENGLAND MANAGER PHIL Neville rallied behind captain Steph Houghton after she saw her penalty saved in the Lionesses’ devastating Women’s World Cup semi-final exit to the US women’s national team.

Houghton stepped up after a VAR review adjudged Ellen White to have been fouled by Becky Sauerbrunn, but saw a scuffed effort easily saved by goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher.

But England had relied on the 31-year-old’s leadership and inspirational defending throughout the tournament – and Neville had nothing but praise for her.

“I couldn’t ask for more,” he said after the game.

“We had the time of our lives. Steph Houghton has had an incredible year. She’s an amazing person on and off the pitch.

She’ll be upset. She’s been phenomenal. No blame should be attached to her.”

England’s dream collapsed around them in the second half as they saw the penalty missed, White’s apparent equaliser ruled out by VAR for a fractional offside, and Millie Bright deservedly sent off late on for a second yellow.

But manager Neville was pleased with the character and quality shown by his side against the reigning champions and the world’s number one-ranked side.

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“We just ran out of steam. I asked them to play football the way we wanted. We’ve done our very best. I’ve told them no tears tonight,” he said.

“The disallowed goal was offside, we’ve had VAR decisions go our way. We got on with it. Millie Bright shouldn’t have been booked in the first half.

The referee wasn’t really in control of the game. Then we went to three at the back and got stretched.

“That’s football. That’s sport. You’ve got to pick yourselves up. We’ve got a big game on Saturday. We’ll go again.”

England will find out on Wednesday their opponents for Saturday’s third-place play-off game, with the Netherlands and surprise package Sweden taking to the field in the second semi-final.

The match will be a chance for the Lionesses to move beyond Tuesday’s disappointment and end the tournament on a high, before resetting and looking forward to the next competition.

With Euro 2021 hosted on home soil, England will be hoping Tuesday’s setback is just another step on a larger journey towards vindication in a major tournament.

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