So near and yet so VAR for Phil Neville's Lionesses
After England's agonising semi-final defeat to the USA in the Women's World Cup
semi-final, Dodgy Tackle caught up with manager Phil Neville to pick over the bones of another glorious defeat with a fine-tooth cone. So to speak...
Dodgy: So Phil, another glorious failure for England in a World Cup semi-final. How do you feel at this minute in time?
Phil Neville: Proud. I've just told my guys in that dressing room...
PN: You may say that, but I don't see them as men or women. I see them as footballers, as lions, or lionesses. And there's so much pride in these lions. Or lionesses, so to speak.
Dodgy: You must feel some sense of disappointment though?
PN: Naturally, yeah. We had the world at the palm of our feet and we let it slip through our fingers.
Dodgy: But it is another semi-final defeat for England. Is there a mental block there?
PN: I don't think so, no. We're getting better all the time as a nation, as a bunch of lads. So at some stage we will get the win and get the monkey's water off the duck's back, so to speak.
Dodgy: Where was this game won and lost?
PN: Well, it goes much further than today. The USS of R are much further down the line than us in terms of development. And it's not just them. Look at France, they had Michelle Platini playing for the men's team in the 1980s. Lilian Thuram scored twice for the them in a World Cup semi-final in 98. Patrice Evra won a Champions League. So we're a long way behind.
America, they've thrown a fortune at it, they've got literally zillions of girls playing football. They've got a
floppy-haired blond buffoon pulling the strings. And we're a fair bit behind. But we will get there.
Dodgy: OK. The manner of the defeat must be hard to take, with a disallowed goal, and a missed penalty late on...
PN: I'm very disappointed with the disallowed goal. I thought Ellen White was level with the last man, sorry woman. And I thought I knew how VAR worked. My brother Gary used to play with the guy who invented it, Edwin van der Var. He's meant to be an honest guy but it seems not. Is it any wonder the Dutch are going well?
Dodgy: Aside from that. 2-1 down, a few minutes to go and we get a penalty. But our normal penalty-taker doesn't step up. Can you explain that decision?
PN: We have full faith in Nikita Parris, but something told me it wouldn't be her night. Her name's Parris, we're in Lyon, and sometimes you have to pay attention to the universe when it speaks at the World Cup.
Dodgy: But why a centre-back in Steph Houghton and not top scorer Ellen White?
PN: Steph's the captain, she wanted to take it. And her uncle Ray scored a few massive goals in tournaments for Ireland, so we had real faith in her. But, in all honesty, she hit it like a girl and perhaps we might have had better men for the job.
Dodgy: Not sure you can say that Phil. To return to your point about Nikita Parris. You really believe in fate?
PN: Well, I do think some things are written in the sun, and I truly thought we were destined to win this tournament. But after we missed the penalty, I looked out onto that pitch, and on the back of one of our shirts I swear I saw the word ‘Bronze'. I turned to our kitman – and it is a man – and said ‘we're going to finish third here'. He said ‘there's only two teams playing'. And he was right, but you have to see the bigger picture at times. So to speak.
Dodgy: Speaking of the bigger picture. How can we improve in the future?
PN: Firstly, we need all of our best players playing for us. The Liverpool keeper, Alisson, isn't here. Ashley Cole, Ashley Barnes, Mike Ashley, Ashley Young, well maybe not Ashley Young, but for one reason or another they're not here and that has to change.
Dodgy: Are you serious?
PN: Yeah, we need more options. We're 2-1 down there tonight and I'm thinking we need to cause these Americans problems. We need to throw a Spaniard in the works. But I Iook round at the bench and they're all English, which is something we need to look at, and, mark my words, we will.
Dodgy: I'm sure you can take plenty of positives of the tournament as a whole though.
PN: Certainly. Interest in the women's game is going through the sky, so we need to strike while the ironing is hot and grow it even further. We'll take that ironing and press on and be better four years from now.
Dodgy: So hopes are high?
PN: Certainly, but you can't live on hope alone, unless you're Hope Solo. We'll plan ahead for the future, with one eye on the present and a foot in the past, and go again. The foundations are on the plate and we'll build on them.
Dodgy: That's a good place to leave it then. Thanks Phil.
PN: No problem. Thanks for your support. Upwards and onwards. So to speak...