England’s defeat by the United States on Thursday was their sixth loss in nine games, so have they gone backwards since reaching the Women’s World Cup semi-finals?
It is eight months since their 2-1 reverse to the same opposition in France and the Lionesses struggled to compete with the world champions, who extended their unbeaten run to 29 games.
Two second-half goals in quick succession from Christen Press and Carli Lloyd did the damage in Orlando as England’s SheBelieves Cup defence took a huge blow.
Former Lionesses forward Lianne Sanderson told the BBC the performance “wasn’t good enough” and the team have “gone backwards,” while ex-defender Alex Scott added they “are not in the same bracket as the USA”.
So what has changed since the summer? And have England regressed?
The gap hasn’t widened – Neville
Before the tournament, Neville said England’s aim was to “overtake the USA” as the best team in the world.
He spoke of knocking them off their perch and hoped his side would be their biggest threat in the competition.
England came into the tournament in poor form – beaten by lower-ranked sides Brazil and Norway in the aftermath of the World Cup.
Ballon d’Or winner Megan Rapinoe highlighted the rivalry with England as “huge” going into Thursday’s match, but the result ultimately showed Neville’s side still have work to do.
“I feel we have taken massive steps forward before, but I think we have gone backwards. It looked like it could have been four or five,” said Sanderson.
However, despite his team looking second best for large parts of the game in Orlando, Neville told BBC Sport: “The semi-final was [eight] months ago.
“The gap hasn’t widened, that’s for sure. I still see a team willing to go out there and play against the best team in the world. The biggest obstacle is always the final bit – the last 1% or 2% – and going above them to try and beat them.”
‘A big obstacle we have to overcome’
Neville has spoken of a two-year plan to prepare for the European Championship in 2021 and named a young squad for the tournament in the US.
Injuries to key defender Lucy Bronze and forward Beth Mead were a blow but Neville said this week he “trusted” the ability of his young players.
Manchester City forward Lauren Hemp, 19, was given her first England start and impressed, while 21-year-old club-mate Georgia Stanway was given the nod ahead of Arsenal’s Jordan Nobbs in midfield.
But despite changes to the side, Neville admitted the Lionesses need to “start beating these teams consistently” and it is “a big obstacle we have got to overcome”.
“Our team is different. There are a lot of young players in there. We are building something new,” he added.
“I see a team that are trying to play the right way and it feels as if we are so close but yet so far at this moment.
“It is that ruthlessness [from the USA] that sets the best teams above the rest, and we need to develop that.”
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Rapinoe said this week there was “a toe nail in it” after their victory over England at the World Cup.
But USA midfielder Julie Ertz told BBC Sport after Thursday’s victory she feels the world champions have gone up another level.
“As a team we feel like we have. It’s just about getting better and holding ourselves to a higher standard,” she said.
The USA have not conceded a goal since the World Cup and are unbeaten in 14 months.
In contrast, England have dropped three places down the world rankings and have not beaten Thursday’s opponents since 2017.
The result was another blow and Scott told BBC Two that England will need “a huge 16 months to raise the level”.
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