Women's World Cup 2019

Neville coy over Bronze role against Rapinoe

LYON • From an American perspective, the battle that could determine the winner of today's Women's World Cup semi-final, and perhaps the Golden Ball award, will take place on the left flank.

From the English point of view, it is the right flank.

While the United States-England clash in Lyon will undoubtedly come down to collective spirit and performance, it is almost impossible to overlook the clash between Lioness Lucy Bronze and American Megan Rapinoe - arguably the two best players on each team.

England manager Phil Neville has said defender Bronze is the best player in the world, while forward Rapinoe is the talk of the tournament, not only for scoring successive braces in the knockout stages, but also for raising social issues that transcend sports.

"I don't think you'll get any better (battle) in women's football," former Manchester United defender Neville said on Sunday.

That is if Bronze lines up in her usual position of right-back.

Neville has hinted at moving her into midfield, saying with a sly smile: "It might be Rachel Daly against Megan Rapinoe, you just never know.

"We have a decision to make."

Rapinoe, 33, has drawn praise and criticism in recent years for her non-athletic causes, ranging from gender equality to politics.

Bronze, 27, is the more reserved of the duo, but her game speaks volumes. Her goal against Norway is among the best in the tournament, and she has an ability not just to join the attack but influence it.

The US' English-born coach Jill Ellis is also wary of the "very attacking-minded player", but feels her team's unity can overcome any individual talent.

Defending champions US have not lost since January and are the favourites to win their fourth World Cup for good reason.

None of the other semi-finalists have lifted the trophy before and, in Rapinoe, they have a deadly finisher. With five goals, she is the joint-leading scorer alongside teammate Alex Morgan, Australia's Sam Kerr and England's Ellen White.

Neville, recounting the 1-0 loss to the US in Orlando in March last year, spoke glowingly of Rapinoe.

He said: "Megan is someone, from day one, I've really admired. A ball was bouncing on the touchline. I went to catch the ball and her studs came right through my Apple watch. She has not repaid me yet. What I liked about it, she didn't say sorry, she just got on with it."

But Neville believes his players have developed a similar mindset.

He added: "The US are the best team in the world, without a shadow of a doubt. But I never worry about the opposition.

"No one cares about the silver or the bronze medal. My players now want to win the World Cup."



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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 02, 2019, with the headline 'Neville coy over Bronze role against Rapinoe'. Print Edition | Subscribe