Manchester City Women’s international stars stole the show as England Women progressed to the quarter-finals of the World Cup with a stunning win over Norway.
Captain Steph Houghton and right-back Lucy Bronze hit the headlines with a goal each to cancel out Solveig Gulbrandsen’s 54th-minute header and secure what had seemed an unlikely victory for Mark Sampson’s side.
Two of five City stars to feature in Ottawa, the pair produced two moments of magic to turn the game on its head and make history as the Lionesses clinched their first ever win in the knock-out stage.
Though they were on the back foot for much of the game, England responded excellently to falling behind and – inspired by substitute Jill Scott – fought back valiantly to send themselves through to the last eight.
The goal that won it – Bronze’s sublime first-time effort from the edge of the box – was worthy of deciding any game and provided one of the highlights of this year’s competition.
As always, Houghton led by example, while super sub Scott, a hard-working Toni Duggan and an almost-impenetrable Karen Bardsley also produced fine displays to cap a memorable and proud night for club as well as country.
As impressive as the fightback was though, it hadn’t looked like coming at one stage. Norway were much the better side for large periods of the game and deserving of their lead, which they could have extended to put the game beyond the Lionesses’ reach.
Before kick-off, skipper Houghton had warned of Norway’s direct approach and physicality – and that soon became evident.
After Duggan had headed wide from Bronze’s cross inside three minutes – a rare England attack in the first-half – Bardsley was called into action for the first time and the shot-stopper produced an excellent save to deny Isabell Herlovsen.
Just as she had against Colombia, the 30-year-old raced out to narrow the angle and block the effort, as the former world champions carved open the England defence with an exquisite through-ball.
She had to remain alert, tipping a cross-shot around the post moments later and the Lionesses were lucky to escape again as Kristine Minde almost tapped home at the backpost as the onslaught continued.
Ada Hegerberg then headed wide and Herlovsen flashed a first-time effort off-target, before Bronze almost gifted Even Pellerud’s side the lead, misjudging a backpass which let Hegerberg in.
Fortunately, the forward stayed on her feet in the penalty area when Bronze attempted to recover and then fired straight at Bardsley, who gathered at the second attempt.
It proved to be the last real action of the half and it was clear the Lionesses needed to change their approach after the break if they were to impose themselves in the game and play to their strengths, as they had insisted they would beforehand.
There was no immediate response though. Sampson brought on Scott shortly after half-time but with England defending a set-piece, she had no time to make an impact before Norway opened the scoring.
The corner perhaps should not have been conceded as Gulbrandsen’s original shot appeared to be going wide but Bardsley opted to make sure of that and from the resulting set-piece, the midfielder headed into the near post to make it 1-0.
Now England had no choice but to react – and fast. Thankfully, that’s just what they did, equalising just six minutes later.
It was the skipper who netted it – becoming City’s first goalscorer of the tournament in the process – heading home Fara Williams’ corner, after Scott had done well to earn the set-piece.
With the game back on level terms, England were ignited with renewed hope and they looked much more threatening from then on.
The Norwegians did continue to press but aside from two half-chances, did little to trouble the England defence before a piece of individual brilliance decided the encounter with 15 minutes remaining.
Scott was involved again, combining with fellow substitute Jodie Taylor who laid off for Bronze on the edge of the area. With one thing in her mind, the defender smashed a first-time effort right into the top corner that Ingrid Hjelmseth could do nothing about, despite getting a hand to it.
With the momentum behind them and with a precious lead to hang on to, England battled to preserve it and did so, sparking joyous scenes at full-time.
The reward is a trip to Vancouver to take on hosts Canada on Sunday 28 June. It’s a 12:30am BST kick-off but it’s sure to be worth waiting up for.