CAPTAIN Steph Houghton has warned England they will have to defy the odds once again if they are to edge past reigning champions Japan and reach the World Cup final.
Mark Sampson’s side dumped hosts Canada out of the tournament with a gritty quarter-final victory at the BC Place Stadium in Vancouver to set up a last-four showdown with the Japanese on Wednesday night.
But while confidence is soaring within the England camp, Houghton knows they will have to be at their best if they are to keep alive their hopes of glory.
The 27-year-old Manchester City defender said: “We know it’s going to be a massive game on Wednesday. We’ve got to respect them. They are world champions for a reason.
“Now it’s all about recovering and focusing on trying our best to get into a final.”
Houghton and her team-mates earned their crack at the holders after establishing a quickfire two-goal lead and then defending it tigerishly as Canada, coached by Englishman John Herdman, launched a concerted fightback.
Jodie Taylor’s 11th-minute strike got them off to the perfect start, and when former Leeds student Lucy Bronze doubled their advantage just three minutes later, they were in dreamland.
However, Canada captain Christine Sinclair reduced the deficit three minutes before the break, setting up a tense second half during which England had to endure serious pressure to hang on to their lead.
For Casey Stoney, who came off the bench to help shore up the defence, it proved the highlight of her lengthy career to date.
The 33-year-old Arsenal defender said: “I never had any seed of doubt.
“I knew this team was going to win (yesterday). We have 23 fantastic players here. We are stronger than we have ever been.
“I was just thankful to be on the pitch. Even if I hadn’t have got on the pitch, this is a real squad effort.
“It’s taken all of us to get here. I’m just so thankful and so proud of these girls for getting us over the line.
“It’s the best feeling I’ve ever felt in my career. Incredible.”
Despite securing a famous win, Stoney admitted England were not at their best against Canada, but paid tribute to the resilience and determination they showed to get tthe victory.
She said: “It was a tough game. Canada fought to the wire. They gave us a tough game. For us, it probably wasn’t the best performance, but we did exactly what we wanted.
“Two goals in the bag early settled a lot of nerves. We conceded a poor goal, but holding that scoreline until the last minute is credit to everyone.”
England manager Sampson was proud of his “history makers” after guiding them to the World Cup semi-finals.
It was another milestone for a team who won their first knockout game in World Cup history against Norway in the last-16 and Sampson was delighted to join the men’s teams of 1966 and 1990 in making the semi-finals on the biggest stage.
“To get a result in that atmosphere against an excellent Canadian team is an incredible performance, and incredible result,” he said.
“The crowd were unbelievable. I’ve never been in a stadium as loud, as passionate for their team as that was and the Canadian team left everything on the pitch, they couldn’t have pushed us any further.
“We had to really, really dig deep to get the result we wanted so I’m really proud of my team.
“I’m also really proud of women’s football today.
“I think it was an unbelievable occasion, a sell-out crowd, everyone loving their team, supporting their team but, again, incredibly proud of the players.
“They’re history makers again, only the third ever England team to get to a semi-final. We’ve now joined that ‘66 and 1990 club.
“I was very, very proud of the whole group.”
The Lionesses began their campaign with a disappointing defeat to France, but bounced back with wins against Mexico and Colombia before overcoming Norway and Sampson hailed his team’s battling spirit.
“That’s our big moment of the tournament, the way the players bounced back from that defeat,” he said.
“There’s so many teams that would have struggled with that and doubted themselves but this team stayed strong, they stayed together, they stuck to the plan and now we find ourselves in a World Cup semi-final.
“So the team know now that they’ll need to dig deep and really do that again against an excellent Japan team.
“They’ll go there. They’ll go as deep as they need to go to keep this team in this tournament.”
He added: “At this stage of the tournament, in any stage of this tournament with the quality of the teams here, I’m not sure we are the underdogs.
“Every game is a game where it’s the team who delivers the best on the field and finds a way to get themselves through so we’re delighted to still be here.
“This team has shown incredible resilience, incredible character and togetherness to still be in this tournament.
“If you look at our results and our performances, we’ve been dominated against an excellent French team, been right in the game up until the last minute, we’ve played well and dominated a strong Mexico and Colombian team. And then these two games have been about grinding out results, about staying in the tournament and the players have done that.
“They’ve shown their quality with the ball, they’ve shown their quality with defensive structure and they’ve shown a desire that I’ve never seen from an England team before to hang on in there and get this team through to the next round.”
England were watched by a peak audience of 1.6mi viewers as they advanced to the semi-finals.
The match kicked off at 12.30am UK time.
Peak figures of 2.3m were attained for the group matches against France and Colombia, but the kick-offs of those matches were at more sociable times.
England’s semi-final against holders Japan in Edmonton starts at 00.00 BST Thursday.