Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 July 2019

2019 Fifa Women's World Cup: Phil Neville sweats on fitness of defensive duo ahead of quarter-final clash

Steph Houghton and Millie Bright struggling with injury and sickness ahead of match against Norway on Thursday

England manager Phil Neville dspeaks to reporters at a press conference ahead of the 2019 Fifa WOmen's World Cup quarter-final against Norway. Reuters 
England manager Phil Neville dspeaks to reporters at a press conference ahead of the 2019 Fifa WOmen's World Cup quarter-final against Norway. Reuters 

Phil Neville has concerns over Steph Houghton and Millie Bright ahead of England's 2019 Fifa Women's World Cup quarter-final clash against Norway in Le Havre on Thursday.

Manchester City and England captain Houghton is struggling with an ankle injury after being on the receiving end of a rash challenge during Sunday's controversial 3-0 win over Cameroon in the last 16.

Bright, meanwhile, is a doubt through illness, with a sickness virus sweeping through the England camp.

Neville said he hoped the Chelsea defender, 25, will come through a late fitness test before making a decision over her availability.

"Both are major doubts," Neville said of Houghton and Bright.

"Steph because of the tackle, we are hoping she takes part in some training ... that is the key for Steph.

"Millie has got a virus that is going a little bit through the camp so she is probably more of a doubt than Steph. We are going to give them right to the last minute to be fit."

Losing his centre-back pairing from the Cameroon victory would cause Neville into a rethink, but backed their possible replacements to step up to the plate as the Lionesses target a place in the semi-finals.

"You guys [the media] have had an obsession with my rotation for the last 18 months ... but it's for moments like this," Neville added.

"I put my life on Leah and Abbie that, if called upon, they will be the best two players on the pitch."

"Abbie's form over the last 18 months, it is for moments like this that we can just say 'no problem', Steph, Millie, whatever. We just bring two people in who know the system and the style and have utter belief and confidence in each other.

"It is a seamless transition, you plan for these moments. I said six months ago that we don't want to get to the quarter-final of a World Cup and throw a young kid in - so there has been a plan behind it and it has been for moments like this and I am totally relaxed."

Houghton's new Manchester City teammate Ellen White has hit four goals at the finals so far and will be looking to add to that in Le Havre.

Neville believes the 30-year-old has added predatory instincts to her game to help find the back of the net on a more regular basis.

"I'm not going to name a player in the male game but in terms of characteristics she is a [Ruud] van Nistelrooy, [Alan] Shearer, [Michael] Owen - turning from a hard-working, grafting player into a predator," he said.

"That has been the biggest change, now all she thinks about is goals. Yes, she is a team player but she has got that ruthless streak now where it is about goals and that is what I want my centre-forwards to do."

The Lionesses are currently on a five-match winning streak in the World Cup, which is their best ever run in the history of tournament.

Goalkeeper Karen Bardsley feels the squad is peaking at the right time as they look to improve on their third-placed finish in 2015.

"I think we are the most prepared team, the most resilient team, and we know our strengths," she said.

"We have gathered momentum throughout the group stages and experienced different tests, and I am very excited for the game tomorrow because I do not think we have reached out potential yet.

"I think we could do that tomorrow."

Updated: June 27, 2019 03:54 AM

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