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England

Steph Houghton and Millie Bright overcome injury and illness to star once again for England… the centre back pair are key to Lionesses’ success

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Just over 24 hours ago there were huge fears England would be without their first-choice centre-back pairing. 

Captain Steph Houghton and Millie Bright were classed as ‘major doubts’ for the World Cup quarter-final clash against Norway in Le Havre on Thursday night.

The Manchester City defender suffered an ankle injury during the Lionesses’ 3-0 win over Cameroon during the last-16 stage while Chelsea’s Bright was struggling with illness. 

England's centre backs Millie Bright (L) and Steph Houghton (C) impressed against Norway

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England’s centre backs Millie Bright (L) and Steph Houghton (C) impressed against Norway

‘I think it will probably give the opposing team more confidence, thinking they haven’t got maybe their best centre-half pairing,’ former England captain Faye White told Sportsmail ahead of the game.  

Were these mind games by manager Phil Neville? Only those within the camp will know. 

But there were certainly no signs that the defensive duo were below par due to the health concerns.

As England reached the World Cup semi-finals Houghton and Bright overcame their war wounds and arguably put in their best performance of this summer’s tournament.  

From the first whistle the pair set the tone and signalled their intent. It was Houghton who stepped in calmly to intercept the ball which led to Jill Scott’s opener in the third minute.  

The Women’s Super League defenders were postive and direct, kick-starting the Lionesses’ attacks. 

Houghton cleared the ball from the goalline after Bright had made an error in the second half
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Houghton cleared the ball from the goalline after Bright had made an error in the second half

Houghton cleared the ball from the goalline after Bright had made an error in the second half

Skipper Houghton wiped out three Norwegian players with a forward pass which gave Nikita Parris a chance on goal while Bright continued to read the danger.

Houghton was again involved in the build-up to England’s second goal just before half-time, playing the ball out wide to Lucy Bronze, who in turn found Parris who then fed Ellen White.  

Both assured in possession, Houghton and Bright trusted each other and seemed to have a telepathic relationship. Where one was caught out the other was just moments behind to snuff out the threat. 

Houghton and Bright trusted each other and seemed to have a telepathic relationship
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Houghton and Bright trusted each other and seemed to have a telepathic relationship

Houghton and Bright trusted each other and seemed to have a telepathic relationship

In the 66th minute their partnership was truly tested. Bright did not get enough power on a back pass to goalkeeper Karen Bardsley and Lisa-Marie Karlseng Utland nipped in. But Houghton was there to clear the ball from the goalline.   

To crown Houghton’s dominant display she won a penalty in the final 10 minutes of the last-eight tie. 

The Lionesses as a whole put in an impressive display and the entire back four dealt with what Norway offered as a unit. Neville’s defence has not conceded a goal in 371 minutes. 

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In just over 24 hours’ time England will know who they will face for a place in the World Cup final but with Houghton and Bright at the back they won’t fear anyone. 

Phil Neville's Lionesses progressed to the World Cup semi-finals on Thursday after 3-0 win

Phil Neville's Lionesses progressed to the World Cup semi-finals on Thursday after 3-0 win

Phil Neville’s Lionesses progressed to the World Cup semi-finals on Thursday after 3-0 win