Phil Neville laughs off US spying as poor etiquette

Bemused England boss Phil Neville has laughed off a visit by members of the United States staff to his team’s hotel ahead of the Women’s World Cup semi-final showdown between the sides.

Staying focused: England head coach Phil Neville is refusing to be drawn into the spying tactics of World Cup semi-final opponents USA. (Picture: PA)

Jill Ellis’ reigning champions and Neville’s hopefuls meet in Lyon tomorrow evening, but it is understood a representative from the USA camp visited the team’s hotel in a reconnaissance mission ahead of next Sunday’s final.

Asked about the incident, Neville said: “It’s not a concern. The only thing I would say is it’s not something that I would want my team ops person doing. It’s not something that England would do.

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“We’re happy with our hotel. We were training, so I hope they enjoyed our hotel. But it’s not something that we’d do, send somebody round to another team’s hotel.

“But it’s their problem. I’m sure that Jill probably wouldn’t have been happy with that arrangement; I wouldn’t have been if that was my team ops person going round, and I’m sure that she will be dealing with their infrastructure within their own discipline, probably.

“It’s not an unfair advantage. It’ll have no bearing on the game. I actually found it quite funny, I just thought, ‘What are they doing?’ It’s not etiquette really, is it?.”

England go into the game with a full squad from which to choose and high hopes after drawing with the Americans in March on their way to lifting the SheBelieves Cup.

Neville said: “You go to tournaments to win. I said earlier in the week about semi-finals – nobody cares who loses in a semi-final, it’s all about winning and my players now want to win, so if we don’t get the right result, we will be disappointed.

“We will feel the disappointment and we’ll see that as a failure – and that’s not me being negative, that’s just our expectation, and our belief and our confidence now and our mindset is about winning.”

Captain Steph Houghton, part of the side which missed out in agonising fashion in the semi-finals four years ago, is hoping England’s fitness – something which was remarked upon by tennis great Serena Williams after she had watched the Lionesses train earlier in the tournament – can be a potent weapon this time around.

Houghton said: “It’s been documented well that Serena was at our hotel and a few of the girls were fangirling her. She’s an icon of women’s sport and rightly so.

“She’s won so many medals, so many trophies, best tennis player in the world and for us to see her train as well on the court was an unbelievable experience that nobody really gets the honour of doing.

“For her to say that about us is amazing for this squad. That’s what we want to pride ourselves on, the hard work, the ability to be one of the fittest teams in the world and to be really humble in everything that we do, so for someone of that calibre and so much status to say that about me and my team-mates is unbelievable and I’d like to thank her for that.

“In terms of our fitness as a team in comparison to 2015, the game has moved on so much since then. For us, fitness is a priority to be competing against the best teams in the world – and we are one of them – and we have shown over this tournament that we can go toe-to-toe with anyone.

“Against the USA on Tuesday, it’s going to be our physical attributes that could potentially win us the game.”

More than 20,000 tickets have already been sold for England Women’s friendly against Germany in November, the Football Association has revealed.

It was announced on June 5 that the Lionesses will be taking on the Germans at Wembley on November 9, and the FA said the 20,000 sales mark was passed yesterday morning.

Neville’s side are currently preparing for Tuesday’s World Cup semi-final against holders the United States in Lyon.

Interest back home in their progress at the tournament in France has been considerable.

The 3-0 quarter-final win over Norway on Thursday set a new UK television viewing record for women’s football, being watched by a peak audience of 7.6million.

England also have a friendly against Norway in Bergen lined up for September 3.

Sweden pulled off a shock 2-1 victory over Germany in Rennes to reach the semi-finals.

Germany, the Olympic champions, had not conceded a goal in the tournament so far as they coasted into the last eight.

Sweden, though, produced a resolute display at Roazhon Park to come from behind. They meet the Netherlands in the second semi-final on Wednesday after the Dutch defeated Italy 2-0.