The American winger anticipated an exciting clash with France in the Women’s World Cup, but the semi-final with the Lionesses could be even better
Lucy Bronze has almost dominated Women’s World Cup talk this past week.
The first question asked in the United States’ press conference on Sunday was about the right-back, and she was a popular topic in England’s as well.
The 27-year-old starred in the Lionesses’ 3-0 win over Norway in the quarter-finals, scoring a stunning goal and providing a great assist, with Phil Neville labelling her the best player in the world afterwards, arguing that she deserves to win the Ballon d’Or.
But every headline that hasn’t involved Bronze has involved the player she will be marking on Tuesday night – Megan Rapinoe.
The winger’s feud with Donald Trump has made her already more iconic than she was before, despite always being outspoken and fighting for what she believes in.
Then, the 33-year-old reminded everyone of her talent on the pitch too, scoring both goals as the USA beat France 2-1 in the last eight.
“At my first SheBelieves [Cup], Rapinoe put her studs through my Apple watch when I went to catch a ball,” Neville said.
“She still hasn’t paid me back for that. But she didn’t say sorry; she just got on with it. She’s a winner.”
He later called her “world class”, adding: “I admire people with personality, who have strong values and stand up for what they believe in. So, yes, I admire Megan Rapinoe.”
Bronze didn’t mark Rapinoe when the pair met in March. Instead, she was playing in midfield, with Rachel Daly pitted against the American, who scored a wonderful goal in an exciting 2-2 draw.
But while Neville speculated that he could do that again in his pre-match presser, it seems unlikely.
Bronze has formed a potent partnership with Nikita Parris down the right wing, one that the latter has commented on various times throughout the tournament.
“I just know where she’s going to be,” she said after victory over Norway, with the pair having terrorised Kristine Minde in the quarter-final.
It’s that which makes Jill Ellis certain that Bronze will play at right-back rather than in midfield on Tuesday, despite Neville’s well-documented love of rotation.
It will be, by far, the biggest test of the Lyon star’s tournament – but she’s not fazed.
“I’ve always said I love playing against the best players in the world. I love a challenge,” Bronze said.
“I remember, a couple of years ago, I had a list of names that I wanted to play against. Marta, Kelly Smith, and Rapinoe was definitely on there.
“It was two years ago I first played against her and I was so excited because I finally got to play against one of the best players in the world.
“She’s still up there today as one of the best, so of course I’m still excited to have that challenge and to be able to go toe-to-toe with one of the best is the reason I play as a defender – because all the best players are attackers!”
Since moving to France from Manchester City in 2017, Bronze has won the Champions League twice, the Division 1 Feminine twice and the Coupe de France Feminine once – defeat in the 2017-18 final to PSG the only blotch on their record.
But, in a team so dominant and, in turn, so attacking, her defensive capabilities have come into question.
Her marauding style has been as effective as ever so far, but she’s yet to have come up against a left-wing threat like Rapinoe.
Moreover, with Crystal Dunn behind her – naturally an attacker, not a defender – Bronze and Parris take on almost an American version of themselves, in terms of their effectiveness and link-up, at least.
Neville commented on the battle in his pre-match presser, excited about what is, in his words, probably the best right wing and left wing match-up in the tournament.
Chelsea manager Emma Hayes shared his excitement.
“Crystal Dunn at left-back and Megan Rapinoe ahead of her face fascinating battles with Parris and Bronze; four top-quality players vying for dominance down one side,” she wrote in her column for The Times this week.
“The outcome of those duels could be crucial in deciding who goes through to the final.”
Hayes is certainly not exaggerating. Given the in-form, decisive players are packed primarily on that wing, it’s going to be a case of fighting fire with fire, trying to expose the gaps in behind when the full-backs get forward.
In that instance, it’ll be the USA’s holding midfielder Julie Ertz who becomes all the more important too, and both of Jill Scott and either Keira Walsh or Jade Moore for England.
Rapinoe anticipated “a total sh*tshow circus” of a match when France met the USA and, in patches, it certainly lived up to the billing.
But Bronze’s form, potential Ballon d’Or charge and match-up with the American star in the last four means England vs the USWNT could be even better.
We’ll leave Rapinoe to settle on a name for it, however.
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