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Women's Team

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World Cup Daily: ‘White on another level’

ON THE MARK: Ellen White fires England ahead against Japan

ON THE MARK: Ellen White fires England ahead against Japan

The Lionesses are ready to be unleashed...

All eyes on the prize: a place in the last eight of the 2019 Women's World Cup.

As the intensity increases alongside the temperature in France, anticipation builds to tonight's first quarter-final clash with England locking horns with Norway.

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The clash marks a repeat of the 2015 Round of 16 encounter, in which the Lionesses emerged victorious in Canada.

Phil Neville's side will be hoping to do so again in a bid to reach successive semi-finals for the first time and head into the clash in excellent form with a 100% record in this summer's competition, having topped Group D with maximum points before defeating Cameroon 3-0 in the opening knock-out round.

The Lionesses have registered a five-game  winning streak - their best ever in Women’s World Cup history - but will be wary of the 1995 Champions, who Neville dubbed 'the tournament's surprise package' with their counter-attacking threat and team spirit.

The Scandinavians finished second in Group A with two victories, losing out to hosts France in Matchday Two, and triumphed on penalties against a much-fancied Australia in the Round of 16 in what many have described as the game of the tournament.

Martin Sjögren's squad includes some familiar faces, such as Chelsea defensive duo captain Maren Mjelde and Maria Thorisdottir, as well as eight members of LSK Kvinner's (City's 2017 Champions League opponents) squad and 2018 Champions League finalist Caroline Hansen.

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City are represented by seven England stars - all of which, who have featured during the tournament. Captain Steph Houghton and stalwart Jill Scott have started all four games, while Karen Bardsley, Keira Walsh and Ellen White have clocked up three appearances each.

Georgia Stanway was introduced from the bench in each group game and Demi Stokes made her return from injury in the 2-0 win over Japan.

There is concern however over skipper Houghton's fitness, after the defender suffered an ankle injury late on in the victory over Cameroon. The centre-back had opened the scoring with a superbly-struck indirect free-kick but found herself on the receiving end of a late tackle from Alexandra Engolo.

Speaking in his pre-match press conference on Wednesday, Neville admitted his captain is a 'major doubt' for the clash, but insisted Houghton - and her defensive partner Millie Bright (struck down with a virus) - would be given every opportunity to play.

Meanwhile, as the competition hots up, as does the race for individual honours, including the Golden Boot.

Lionesses’ top scorer and new City recruit White has four goals to her name, having struck against Scotland, Japan and Cameroon – one shy of the USA’s Alex Morgan and Australia’s Sam Kerr.

With Kerr having now exited the competition, White stands an excellent chance of scooping the award and manager Neville believes the City striker is enjoying the peak of her performance.

“Ellen has taken her game to another level,” he said.

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“When you talk about the player I saw in the Euros two years ago, who was playing on the left wing, predominantly people thought: she’s a hard worker; a grafter and she’ll do a job for the team.

“Now, in terms of top centre forwards in the tournament, I don’t see anyone better.

“We’re now seeing a player, who is playing at her absolute maximum potential, ability, confidence and belief.

“She’s scored four goals with her left foot – her weaker foot. I dread to think what she’ll do when she starts using her right!

“Her workrate and attitude are second to none. We’ve had to hold her back – she’s non-stop!

“We’ve had to make sure she’s conserving her energy for the big moments – when the ball falls in the box.

“She’s had to learn the hard way. Six months ago, she was looking at me like I had a hole in my head when I told her to stop running.

“She was on the outside left and right, dropping in… I’m not going to name a player in the male game [that her play resembles] but in terms of characteristics, she’s a Ruud Van Nistelrooy or a Michael Owen – turned from a hard-working, grafting player to a predator. That’s her biggest change.

“Now, all she thinks about is goals. She’s a team player but she’s got that ruthless streak now. Ellen has added a killer instinct to her game.

“One massive advantage for us is that both of our centre-forwards - Ellen and Jodie [Taylor] - didn’t kick a ball until January. They came to the January camp – Ellen having been out for four or five months with a back strain and Jodie with a knee problem, which needed a slight procedure on.

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“They’re both fresh and you can see that in their play. They’re incredibly fresh.”

Tonight's clash kicks off at 8pm BST at the Stade Oceane in Le Havre, and will be broadcast live on BBC One and the BBC iPlayer.

Come on, England!

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Neville: Houghton a 'major doubt' for Norway clash

WORRY: Concerned England boss Phil Neville rushes over to Steph Houghton after the injury to the Lionesses skipper

Phil Neville has confirmed City and England captain Steph Houghton is 'a major doubt' for the Lionesses' World Cup quarter-final encounter against Norway.

The skipper sustained an ankle injury in the closing stages of the 3-0 win over Cameroon in the Round of 16, following a late tackle from Alexandra Engolo.