LYON – England star Lucy Bronze believes the time has come for the Lionesses to make it to the final of the women's World Cup as they head into Tuesday's huge last-four showdown with holders the United States, led by the outspoken Megan Rapinoe.
It is another headline match-up as this landmark tournament shifts to Lyon, the home of Europe's top club side, for its final week, with the country that is so proud of having given the world the game taking on the dominant nation in women's football.
The United States are defending the trophy they won in 2015, their third triumph in seven editions. England are in their third consecutive semi-final at a major tournament but fell at this hurdle four years ago, and again at Euro 2017.
That sets them apart from their opponents on Tuesday, but also from the other semi-finalists, European champions the Netherlands and 2016 Olympic finalists Sweden.
“These are three teams who have reached finals in recent years, so we probably have that edge, we're maybe more destined to go to a final in that respect,” insisted Bronze, who is back in her adopted home, having joined Lyon from Manchester City in 2017.
The right-back has won successive Champions League titles since joining the French side, and can't wait to run out onto the pitch at their 59,000-seat home she knows so well.
“It brings out the best in the teams that I have played for - I know that the players I play with for England, we live for these big games,” said the 27-year-old, a stand-out performer in an England team whose performances have attracted record television audiences back home.
Right-back Bronze will be in direct opposition to Rapinoe, the pink-haired American co-captain who has five goals so far at the World Cup, including two in the quarter-final defeat of hosts France after her two penalties against Spain in the last 16.
Rapinoe has unquestionably been one of the stars of the tournament while also dominating headlines off the field due to her spat with Donald Trump, the US President not taking kindly to her comments that she would boycott any post-tournament team visit to the White House.
“She's a warrior on the field, she's a very special player and she always has been. She's always been very unique in her style and flair, and then off the field she is also a warrior,” said her teammate Christen Press.
While Alex Morgan has looked below full fitness since scoring five times against Thailand, and Carli Lloyd has been a bit-part player, Rapinoe has stepped up in the biggest games.
“She is one of the players who thinks the ball is going to bounce her way, and so then she is in the right spot when it does,” said Press.
England coach Phil Neville questioned the US team's “etiquette” as it was revealed American officials had been spotted at the Lionesses team hotel in Lyon at the weekend.
Regardless of their motivations, that has added spice to this contest, the first meeting of the nations at the World Cup since a 3-0 USA win in the 2007 quarter-finals.
The teams have regularly faced each other at the annual SheBelieves Cup tournament in the States in recent years and a 2-2 draw contributed to England winning the most recent edition.
Tuesday's winners will go through to Sunday's final against either Sweden or the Netherlands, who clash on Wednesday.
The Dutch are enjoying their first run to this stage of a World Cup off the back of winning the Euros on home soil, but Barcelona winger Lieke Martens is an injury concern for the match. Sweden stunned Germany in the quarter-finals to get to this stage.
Agence France-Presse (AFP)