Lucy Bronze’s Ridiculous Smash Underscores England’s Status As A World Cup Favorite In 3-0 Rout Of Norway

The Lionesses sent a message to everyone looking at the France-USWNT match as a de facto final, putting their marker down as a team to beat.

As much of a cliché as this sounds, England is very much a team that is greater than the sum of its parts.

This isn’t to say England has bad players — Fran Kirby and Lucy Bronze are among the best in the world at their respective positions. Yet it would be hard to say the Three Lionesses are the best in the world in any one particular area. There are better passing teams, better possession teams, better defending teams and quicker and stronger teams.

But when England puts it together, there might not be a better team.

England played magnificently to beat Norway 3-0 on Thursday, reaching a second straight Women’s World Cup semifinal. Jill Scott scored in the third minute and Ellen White netted in the 40th, both finishing wonderful attacking plays (ignoring White’s whiff before Scott’s goal). Bronze finished off the match with the hardest-hit goal of the tournament thus far, one you just gotta see.

In between those moments of brilliance were a few signs of a team that maybe isn’t as talented as a Netherlands, France or United States. Passing wasn’t always tidy, defending sometimes lax and attacks fizzled due to poor touches. But none of that really matters when you’re able to produce sequences of play that no team in the world could stop, as England did three times on Thursday.

The Three Lionesses came out roaring in the first half, immediately putting Norway’s defense under pressure. England’s right side of Nikita Parris at winger and Bronze at full back is one of the most devastating duos in the tournament and showed why in the opening minutes. Parris knocked the ball ahead to Bronze, who sent in a cross so perfect that it gave not one, but two England forwards easy looks on goal. While White whiffed on her attempt, she’ll say she was taking a dummy shot for Scott, who put her effort in off the post in the third minute.

Parris and Scott had amazing chances to double the lead throughout the first half, the latter striking the post. Norway occasionally threatened going forward, but White scored her fifth goal of the tournament just before halftime. 

Again the play began on the right side through Bronze and Parris. This time, in the 40th minute, Parris played the final ball, a lovely first-time cross to a waiting White, who is now tied in the Golden Boot race with Sam Kerr and Alex Morgan.

Few teams in this tournament move the ball outside and in with low, measured passes as well as England. It’s a surprisingly simple way to break down a defense, if you can pull it off. 

There’s also the Lucy Bronze way, which is to say: brute force. 

Bronze is nominally a right back, but like France left back Amel Majri, she’s a playmaker at heart and has one of the best shots in the game.

It was Bronze’s magnificent right foot that put the match away and secured England’s second straight trip to the semifinals in the 57th minute. Played square off a set-piece routine, Bronze smashed the ball so hard we’re stunned the net stayed intact. 

This wasn’t the first time Bronze has tormented Norway. At the 2015 Women’s World Cup, she scored the match winner over Norway with this blast in the round of 16. 

The Three Lionesses finished third four years ago and are eager to improve upon that finish. To do that, they know they’ll have to get past either France or the United States, arguably the two favorites to win it all.

England dominated Group D, including avenging a 2015 loss to Japan, and made quick work of Norway, a team France struggled with.

The Three Lionesses look every bit the title contender England fans always think their men’s team is. They’ve got defending, having allowed one goal in five games and none in 371 minutes. They’ve got goalkeeping, as evidenced by the save of the tournament from Karen Bardsley. They’ve got weird goals, as in their opener against Cameroon. And when they put it all together, they’ve got a nearly unstoppable plan of attack that no one has yet figured out how to stop. 

Perhaps most importantly, England isn’t afraid of the biggest teams. The Three Lionesses beat France 4-1 at the 2018 SheBelieves Cup and held the U.S. to a 2-2 draw at the 2019 edition of that tournament, arguably outplaying the Americans for much of the match. 

As much as everyone likes to pretend the France-USWNT quarterfinal on Friday is a de facto final, England will very much have a say in who wins the 2019 Women’s World Cup. 

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